Tag Archives: documentary

Betty White: First Lady of Television Review

Hollywood is not known for being the most comforting of industries. This is especially true for women of a certain age. Betty White is one of the few actresses who has been able to not only survive, but thrive in this environment.

The 2018 documentary Betty White: First Lady of Television is the story of her career. Ms. White entered showbusiness when television was in its infancy. Since her first appearance seven decades ago, she has become an icon, a groundbreaker and a performer who has entertained multiple generations of fans. Using archival footage and interviews, the viewer is given a glimpse of the real woman behind the beloved character actress.

What I loved about this film is that it shows its subject as she is. There are some biographies that present a slick and polished image of perfection. What you see is what you get. She is a smart, salty, and extremely funny woman who at the age of 99, is as real as she ever was.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Betty White: First Lady of Television is available for streaming on Netflix.

P.S. The 2018 episode of Saturday Night Live that she hosted is for my money, one of the best in the past few years.

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Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal Review

From the time we are little, we are told by our parents and teachers that our future professional success does not come without a college degree. When we enter the working world after graduation, a good number of job listings will require that the applicant has at least a BA in something.

One of the major scandals of the last few years was the revelation that some parents from the 1% paid Rick Singer to get their children into prominent universities via the back door. The new Netflix documentary Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal premiered last month. With Matthew Modine playing Singer in a series of re-enactments and interviewing several real life participants, the film follows the timeline from the first whiff of something untoward until the explosion of the truth.

If there was one word to describe the emotion I felt it would be disturbed. The financial reality of college is that the price of tuition has skyrocketed in the last twenty years. I am forever grateful that my parents were able to put money aside so I earn my BA. But not every parent has the financial means to give their child that experience. If nothing else, the movie points out this obvious inequality that can be solved, if we are willing to put our money where our mouths are.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal is available for streaming on Netflix.

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Elizabeth and Margaret: Love and Loyalty Review

If we are lucky, the people we are closest to we are our siblings. But even a relationship born and solidified in childhood can be altered by events that occur in adulthood.

The 2020 Netflix documentary, Elizabeth and Margaret: Love and Loyalty, is about the complicated dynamics between Queen Elizabeth II and her late younger sister, Princess Margaret. Before ascending to the Throne of England, their father, the future King George VI, was the spare. His older brother David, known during his brief time on the throne as Edward III, was the heir to the throne. When David chose love over duty, Elizabeth and Margaret’s life forever changed.

Their father and mother were now King and Queen. Elizabeth, as the heir presumptive and Margaret, the new spare, would have a completely different life. Elizabeth lived and breathed duty. Her life was on the straight and narrow. Margaret was the rebellious wild child, sometimes submitting to the responsibilities of being a working royal and other times living on her own terms.

I really enjoyed this documentary. What struck me was that underneath the titles, the jewels, and the castles was an ordinary relationship between two sisters who were trying to navigate extraordinary circumstances. Though that bond was tested many times over the years, it was never broken.

Do I recommend? Absolutely.

Elizabeth and Margaret: Love and Loyalty is available for streaming on Netflix.

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The Last Blockbuster Movie Review

Those of us of a certain age may remember that the highlight of our weekends was going to Blockbuster Video. But like many corporate brands, it has gone the way of the dodo.

The Last Blockbuster premiered last year on Netflix. The documentary tells the story of the history of Blockbuster Video and introduces the viewer to the last store in the United States. Located in Bend, Oregon, this film contains interviews with the store manager Sandi Harding, celebrities who worked in the store when they were young, and business experts who explain why this once giant of the movie industry is nearly one for the history books.

I loved this movie. As a member of the millennial generation, it is pure nostalgia. Though the Blockbuster where I lived as a teenager and an early twenty-something closed long ago, the experience of entering those doors and being in film heaven is one I will never forget.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The Last Blockbuster is available for streaming on Netflix.

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Audrey (2020) Review

When dealing with childhood trauma as an adult, there are generally two paths to take. The first is that of possible mental illness, addiction, and life long emotional scars that never heal. The second is that of forgiveness, being open, and putting the past behind you.

I watched the new Netflix documentary, Audrey (2020) last night. It is an intimate vision of Audrey Hepburn, one of the most iconic performers from Old Hollywood. Using archival footage, interviews, and clips from her work, the film opens the door to an image of the icon that goes beyond the glitz and glamour. The movie documents her difficult childhood during World War II, her turn as one of the most famous performers in the world, and then her later years, highlighting the charity work she did in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

I loved this movie. It goes beyond the typical Hollywood documentary. I felt like I was introduced to the real woman, not the actress whose profile was specifically created by the studio system. As a fan, it made appreciate her more, both as a performer and a human being.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Audrey is available for streaming on Netflix.

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Kid 90 Movie Review

Being a teenager is hard enough. Adding in Hollywood to the mix is a dangerous cocktail that has the potential for unwanted consequences.

The new documentary Kid 90 premiered last night on Hulu. It follows former child actor Soleil Moon Frye (Punky Brewster) as she interviews her friends who were also child stars growing up in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Reading from her old diaries and revisiting video footage that is decades old, she recounts her own teenage years with honesty that is sometimes missing from our memories of that period in our lives.

I enjoyed this movie. It revealed that the teenage experience is universal, regardless of where we are growing up. It also spoke of mental health issues and how being a kid actor can mess with your head in ways that are unique to showbusiness.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Kid 90 is available for streaming on Hulu.

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Framing Britney Spears Review

Twenty years ago, Britney Spears was one of the biggest acts not just in music, but in the entertainment industry as a whole. She was everywhere. These days, its a different story.

The new Hulu documentary, Framing Britney Spears, premiered on Friday. The movie follows her life, career, and the #FreeBritney movement. Their claim is that that Spears no longer needs to be under the control of the conservatorship, currently held by her father. After her mental health issues became public in 2008, it was enacted for her safety. The claim of those interviewed is that Spears is perfectly capable of making her own decisions, and that the conservatorship is no longer needed.

I loved this movie. It shines a new light on how disgustingly she was treated both by the press and those who benefited from her time at the top of the pop culture food chain. The issue at the heart of this film is mental health, and how those who suffer (women especially) usually get the short end of the stick. If there was one sticking point, it was that if Spears was male, none of this would have ever been considered. But because she is a woman, she must be taken care of because it would be impossible that she is capable of making her own decisions.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Best Movies of 2020

  1. Soul: Though it is marketed as a kids movie, the subtext of appreciating life feels appropriate and potent this year.
  2. Mulan: The live-action reboot of the 1998 animated film Mulan rises above its predecessor, making it fresh and relevant.
  3. Emma.: Anya Taylor-Joy stars as Jane Austen‘s eponymous heroine, Emma Woodhouse, introduced as clever, rich, and handsome. Directed by Autumn de Wilde, this adaption is entertaining, funny, and a lovely addition to the list of Austen adaptations.
  4. The Trial of the Chicago 7: The film tells. the story of the 7 men accused of being responsible for the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests. Though it is set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it feels very 2020.
  5. Portrait of a Lady on Fire: This LBGTQ historical romance between a young woman and the female artist hired to paint her portrait is sweet, romantic, and powerful. It proves once more that love is love is love.
  6. Ordinary Love: Joan (Lesley Manville) and Tom (Liam Neeson) are your average middle-aged couple. When she is diagnosed with Breast Cancer, they both must deal with the rough road ahead.
  7. The Assistant: Jane (Julia Garner) is an assistant to a Harvey Weinstein-esque powerful movie producer. She starts to notice things that don’t sit right with her.
  8. I am Greta: This documentary follows teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg as she advocates for the world to pay serious attention to climate change.
  9. Mank: Gary Oldman plays Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz in a performance that is nothing but Oscar bait.
  10. #AnneFrank-Parallel Lives: Narrated by Helen Mirren, this documentary tells not just Anne’s story. It follows other young women who survived the Holocaust. Parallel to the stories of the past, the viewer is traveling with another young woman as she visits different countries in present-day Europe.

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Ask Dr. Ruth Movie Review

Though sex and sexuality is part and parcel of human nature, it is often viewed as something dangerous and wrong.

For decades, Dr. Ruth Westheimer (aka Dr. Ruth), has been America’s sex therapist. The 2019 Hulu documentary movie, Ask Dr. Ruth, tells her story. Born in 1928 to an Orthodox Jewish family in Germany, everything was normal for the first ten years of her life. When it became clear that being a Jew in Germany was dangerous, Ruth (then known by her first name, Karola) was sent to Switzerland on the Kindertransport.

At the age of 17, she emigrated to what was then British controlled Palestine (pre-Independence Israel) and joined the Haganah. Years later, she again emigrated to the United States. Living in New York City, she married, raised her two children and became the woman we know her to be today.

The thing I love about her is that at nearly 100 years old, she has the energy of a woman half her age. She represents hope, life, change, and that a woman can never be limited to what she can do because she is “female”. Her presence first on the radio and then on television, helped to open the door to long overdue conversations about sex and sexuality.

I absolutely recommend it.

Ask Dr. Ruth is available for streaming on Hulu.

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Totally Under Control Review

When Covid-19 first appeared on the scene at the beginning of the year, no one knew what to make this virus that seemed to come out of nowhere. Looking back, we know now that a little common sense would have saved lives and saved the economy. But there is no going back.

Totally Under Control premiered last month on Hulu. This 2 hour documentary tells the story of how mismanagement and partisanship led to the mess that we are currently in. The film also compares the response of the United States to that of South Korea.

I couldn’t help but get angry as I watched the movie. There were so many opportunities to control the outbreak, but due to a number of circumstances, those opportunities were not taken. The lost opportunities and the missteps created opened the door for the destruction of our economy and the loss of 225,000 Americans.

If nothing else, this is a warning and a lesson learned in a painful way. There will be another virus in the future with the potential to kill hundreds of thousands of people. If we do not take logical and non-partisan steps to control it, we will only repeat the same mistakes that has led to our current predicament.

I absolutely recommend it.

Totally Under Control is available for streaming on Hulu.

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