Friday, May 4, 2012

The Other F Word

My best friend from high school is a huge fan of punk music. So much so that he bought all 4 versions of the Blink 182 album “Take off your Pants and Jacket”.  He did this so he would have the “clean” version and then the 3 different versions that’s only difference was the bonus song at the end of the album and CD cover art.  Although we were not “punk rock” in high school, the music, attitude, and persona of many of these bands influenced me. Even though I liked the music there was something inside that told me I might later regret my choices if I had to explain to my own children why I got a giant neck tattoo of a checker board.  This idea of what happens when these guys who have been leading this movement grow up and get families is the story being told in the 2011 Andrea Nevins documentary “The Other F Word”.  It is really interesting to see how these punk icons interact with their families and how they handle some of the daily problems that other parents have.  The public eye sees them always in the middle of a party, going balls to the wall, not having a care in the world.  This documentary shows them dealing with helping the kids get homework done, worrying about making it to their kids school functions, and struggling with the thing all dads deal with the time allocation between work and family.   I really liked seeing some of the bands and hearing how they got their start then watching them as they settle down and become real dads like the rest of us.  There are some very interesting moments when you see this antiestablishment attitude that hates the structure and rules of the world that starts pushing some of these guys toward complete self destruction.  And ironically the order and structure of their families is what saved them from their downward spiral.  This is a fun little documentary that will really humanize people who have been painted by the public as crazy over the top characters only interested in sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  Don’t get me wrong the movie addresses sex, drugs, and rock and roll, without the first one how do you think they would have gotten these families to begin with.  I don’t think that this is a life altering documentary that will change the way you will think about the world, but it is worth seeing famous punk rockers struggle with the same things you do just slightly more inked up.   

Monday, April 23, 2012

Exit Through The Gift Shop

Mr Brainwash Pop Art
I love documentaries for the stories they tell and the messages that real people try to live out in daily life.  “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is the academy award nominated documentary that has found its self in the controversy of: Is it a documentary or mocumentary?  I think that  it is a fascinating documentary that provides a cutting commentary at the art world (street art to be specific).  Famous street artist Banksy puts together a film about a documentarian turned artist named Thierry Guetta who takes the aptly named moniker MBW (Mr. Brain Wash). The documentary shows wonderful insight into the street art scene, the process that goes into it, and some of the major players in the street art game.  It then shows how street art has gone off the streets and into the auction houses.  This is where the contraversy lies.  There are definitely arguments within the movie to be made that Banksy, known for his “jokes on you” attitude, has problems with arts value being measured in dollars and being nothing more than the popular toy for the rich.  Questions come up like what is art and what is just crappy imitation?  Does genius marketing make something good or just valuable?  In a consumer driven world do we question what we are buying into or are we just eating up whatever popular culture is feeding us?  With all of this being said because Banksy is kind of the Andy Kaufman of the art world people question if this documentary is real, and Thierry Guetta is for real or if it was all just one big joke to further press the point that the audience is the joke in the art world.  I still really enjoyed it whether I was watching a true documentary or a meta artistic expression upon the art world.

Banksy Street Art
 This movie has more than just a social commentary on art consumers. As predominately a rule follower I am intrigued by counter culture and the graffiti artist.  I do wonder how some people tag some places or how some people’s work is so big and elaborate yet done in a way that is so fast and under the cover of darkness.  This documentary touches on some of that as well.  I think that there is a very clear story here and the main character is easily watchable.  At times you love him, hate him, pity him, and champion him.  If you are not into street art this movie gives you a peek into that world.  You might view that highway on your way to work that is tagged differently, or when you get stopped and have to have to wait for a train you see it as a moving gallery not an ugly nuisance. This documentary will bring 87 minutes of artistic culture to your life, even if it is counter-culture.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Word Wars

     Nerd Culture fascinates me.  I love looking at small pockets of our society that holds outcast, quirky, and eccentric members that reject social norms and dedicate themselves to their passion.  The documentary that shoved me into this sub-genre was “Spellbound” a 2002 documentary that highlights contestants for the Scripts National Spelling Bee.  I have now watched many different nerd-docs and have seen a formula develop among them.  Highlight the quirkiest, most unconventional ones of the bunch along with ones that have a good shot of being successful, and follow their daily preparation and document their progress toward their goal.  With the popularity of “Words with Friends” the idea behind Word Wars, a documentary that showcases the world’s top Scrabble players, intrigued me.  As I start watching this movie I find myself thinking that this is just “Spellbound” all grown up.  That kind of disappoints me that it starts looking like the same movie but with adults.  All of that changes when Marlon is introduced into the picture.  In my opinion this guy is the greatest reason to watch this movie.  Although I have stated that I love nerd culture and I love your stereotypical nerds, Marlon breaks the mold of the stereotypical Scrabble player.  Marlon is a very aggressive in your face African American gentleman that smokes lots of weed and at one point in the movie picks up a hooker on camera before a tournament.  When you contrast him with “GI Joel” another player that fits every nerdy stereotype you can think of on top of having to constantly spit up stomach juice from his terrible acid reflux and gastrointestinal problems for which he got his nickname, you will find Marlon is the little nugget of gold in this movie.  Marlon separated this movie from any nerd-doc I have ever seen.  On top of all of his antics, he is a phenomenal Scrabble player.  Every other person that gets highlighted in this movie fits a mental image of a typical Scrabble player.  The fact that this guy who has such strong opinions about what he calls “Amerikkka with 3 k’s”   and openly hates the English Language for stripping his ancestors of their Afrikan language is such a student of the English language and submerses himself in a culture of nerdy white guys and old ladies is well worth 80 minutes of your life.  If you are looking for a nerd-doc this movie will deliver that as well.  This is the ultimate in “don’t judge a book by its cover” especially when the dreadlocked book you are playing can drop words like xenogamy(71pts) and lambrequin(73pts) on you after stepping outside for a blunt.  This movie really does have more appeal than just that of Scrabble players.  I was able to learn a little about Scrabble, but a lot about those who dedicate so much time and effort to this game. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lord, Save Us From Your Followers

Don Merchant puts out a thought provoking documentary titled Lord, Save Us From Your Followers.  He addresses the problem that many others have addressed concerning one of the greatest enemies of Christianity is the actions and attitudes of Christians.  I am fascinated with this topic and think that the premis of this documentary could not be more true.  As far as a documentary goes there are some things that I really like and really don’t like.  I think that his overall message that he conveys is spot on, and does make you think about how you have treated others if you are a Christian, and makes you think about the way you view Christians if you are not.  I personally am not a fan of “man on the street Q and A.”  I think that anytime you engage someone on the street by just walking up to them and sticking a microphone in their face to ask them a question you get a person looking to respond in a guarded or slanted way, or in a way that hopes they are not getting caught up in a “gotcha” moment.  I don’t think that you get honest meaningful responses because quite frankly you are merely looking to put a sound bite on camera that will impact your audience without allowing the person you are talking with be accurately represented as a person within the film.  It also doesn’t help that Merchant is doing these interviews in a stupid suit that is covered in religious and social bumper stickers that is really cheesy and hoakey.    As the documentary progresses it moves much more to a sit down discussion style interview.  When he does his sit down style interviews with people like Rick Warren, Al Frankin, and William P. Young (Author of “The Shack”) he is able to wonderfully engage his message.  I think that there are some really thought provoking things in the documentary such as the gospel of prosperity and how consumerism and Christianity should not be such good friends.  It is very powerful to see him take a page from Blue Like Jazz, the Donald Miller Book that has recently been made into a movie, and set up a Confession booth in the middle of a gay pride festival, where Merchant apologized to homosexuals and confessed the sins of Christians to them asking for forgiveness from the community.  At 142 min this is a long documentary.  I found that the beginning of the movie was a little cheesy but was very pleased with it by the time I got to the end.  No matter what your religious views are I would recommend this movie for everyone if to just give a different perspective. 

Many documentaries run the risk of taking current public figures and portray them in one way, but time gives them ample opportunity to show you they should be portrayed in another way.  Several times Rick Santorum who at the time(2007) was a senator from Pennsylvania talks about his faith and times when he should show compassion.  Several times we have seen that Rick Santorum has not showed that same kind of love when trying to appeal to the super conservative right wing base of Republicans.  Don’t let the hypocrisy of some keep you from understanding the message that is trying to be portrayed by the director.

The common phrase “The book is better than the movie” is very rarely used when talking about documentaries.  This has been a trendy topic to write about in Christian circles lately.  If the documentary is intriguing to you and you are the type of person that likes to read more.  Or you are the kind of person that likes to click in the box “people who like this have also enjoyed…”  This documentary is also a book and there are a couple of books that I have liked that deal with similar subjects.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

BEING ELMO: A Puppeteer's Journey

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, is a biopic documentary that highlights the story of Kevin Clash, the man behind the lovable monster of Sesame Street.  Biopic documentaries are hit and miss for some people.  The documentary is carried by the story of one person, and few others can help out in the story telling.  This biopic does not disappoint.  I was a fan of Sesame Street growing up, and I have 2 kids who are huge fans of Sesame Street, one of which is obsessed with ELMO!  I won’t lie, on some level I thought it might help me to relate to my daughter to learn more about her favorite TV character.  I am not sure if she cares that I know his back story, but I appreciate the process that goes into making Sesame Street even more.  When we think of young prodigies we many times think of athletes, musicians, or Doogie Howser style geniuses, but we don’t think of puppeteer phenoms.  It is incredible to see someone who identified their passion so early and dedicated their time and hard work to perfecting their craft at such and early age.  Part of the movie shows what an incredible visionary Jim Hensen was and the impact he had on Kevin’s life.  Elmo was not a character on Sesame Street when I was little, but now that I am watching new episodes with my kids, it is hard to remember what Sesame Street was like with out the little red ball of fur.  It is fun and quite amazing to see how Elmo started out and what Kevin was able to transform the character into.  This documentary is able to bring up the fond memories of my childhood all while helping me understand why my daughter is obsessed with a cute little monster brought about by the talented Kevin Clash.

I chose this week to highlight this documentary because my family went to a Sesame Street live show.  I am not sure how I would react if I were able to see some of my heroes perform live.  Most of my obsessions don’t perform live.  This weekend I was able to see my daughter hardly be able to contain herself when she got to see her TV hero.  She is not yet 2 yrs old but her reaction to seeing Elmo for the first time was reminiscent of seeing teenage girls scream and cry in excitement over the Beatles, Elvis, or NSYNC.   I would not have gone to see Sesame Street Live by my self, but the total excitement and permasmile she had on her face the whole time was worth the cheesy songs and hokey dancing.  It is truly amazing to see how a character on TV can invoke so much emotion, even from a small child.  If it weren’t for Kevin Clash I would not have had that experience this weekend.