Time: movie documentary review

60 years

Time amazon-documentaryTime is a black and white documentary film put together by the New York Times’ Op Doc folks, which I saw on Amazon Prime. It starts out as a series of snippets of home videos by Fox Rich, about her and her husband Rob, pursuing their American dream to start a clothing store.

Then things went south, financially. We discover Rob and a cousin decide to rob a bank, with Fox as the getaway driver. They are caught and both are given jail time. Fox, who was pregnant with twin boys, received a few years. But Rob got 60 years, without a chance of parole.

So the bulk of the film is about Fox trying to make sure her six sons remember their father while working unceasingly over two decades to get her husband out of prison. As the tag suggests, “this bears witness to the power of one woman to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds with the aid of her faith and family.”

Time was one of fifteen films that were considered in the “Documentary Feature category for the 93rd Academy Awards. Two hundred thirty-eight films were eligible in the category. Members of the Documentary Branch vote to determine the shortlist and the nominees.”

I’ll admit that it took me a while to see where the film was going. Once I picked up on the narrative direction, I found it fascinating and inspiring.

On Rotten Tomatoes, it received 98% positive reviews from the critics. But only 46% of the general audience felt the same. And I understand why, I believe.

This is NOT a story about persons falsely accused. These people clearly did the crime. Ought not they do the time? Perhaps. But 60 years?

Why is life so complicated?

Here’s a paragraph from an IMDB review from ferguson 6, 7 out of 10 stars. “There are some mixed messages delivered here, which is understandable given how complicated life can get. Perhaps the most vivid message is the impact incarceration has on a family.

“Fox is an extraordinary woman devoted to raising her sons as strong and smart young men. But she also decries that her boys have never had a father and don’t even know the role one plays. While Fox displays the ultimate in polite phone decorum despite her frustrations with an uncaring, inefficient system, we do see her sincerity as she stands in front of her church congregation asking for forgiveness of her poor choices.”

If you watch Time, please be patient. It probably won’t grab you at the outset. It’s only over the course of the film that you get to see the effect that  lengthy incarceration has on a family.

Documentary movie review: Rewind

home videos

RewindSasha Joseph Neulinger dug through a ‘vast collection” of home videos. He reconstructed the “unthinkable story” of a child “and exposed the vile abuse passed through generations.” What is remarkable is that the abused child was Sasha Joseph Neulinger.

Rewind is a difficult film to watch. Yet it was not as awful as it might have been. Piers Marchant of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette nails it. “The old footage of Sasha clearly cracking under the strain of his family’s betrayal contrasts poignantly with the strong, centered man he has become.” Making a movie as therapy, perhaps.

It is also a fascinating story about memory – what you remember, what you – possibly necessarily – forget. Indeed, there is a bit of the investigative reporter in Neulinger. He interviews his parents, psychiatrists, prosecutors, and the police to fill in the gaps in his memory. In doing so, he “builds a disturbingly precise picture, conveying both the cyclical nature of such secret horrors and the difficulty in prosecuting cases that involve children.”

There is a small piece of this tale I do vaguely recall because it involved a somewhat prominent person. Not incidentally, we discover yet again that the criminal justice mechanism is not always a level playing field.

Young Sasha was clearly pained in the home videos, but it was unclear to his mother why. What makes this tolerable to watch is the adult Sasha, who takes an almost arm’s length investigatory role. Despite the subject matter, Rewind isn’t salacious or grubby.

And – not really a spoiler – adult Sasha is OK, even thriving, and apparently not bitter. He has a new name and a mission to try to help others who were in the position he was in.

The 44 reviewers from Rotten Tomatoes all gave this documentary a thumbs up. I would thoroughly agree.

The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart

How can you stop the rain from falling down?

How Can You Mend a Broken HeartBarry Gibb says he can’t watch the entirety of the documentary The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. He told CBS News’ Anthony Mason, “I think it’s perfectly normal to not want to see how each brother was lost, you know?”

But you should. I saw it on HBO last month. The film was directed by Frank Marshall.

This is the story of Barry (b. 1946) and his fraternal twin brothers Robin and Maurice (b. 1949), who lived in Manchester, England. They were more like triplets, Barry said, listening to the same music and by 1955, singing together. The family moved to Queensland, Australia, where they achieved their first chart success with Spicks and Specks, their 12th single.

They returned to the UK in January 1967. Producer Robert Stigwood began promoting them to a worldwide audience. They wrote and sang a series of hits, including To Love Somebody, Words, Massachusetts, and I’ve Got To Get a Message to You. But fame is not forever, and their excess lifestyles caused division in the trio.

461 Ocean Boulevard

A change in venues, to Miami, and the right compatriots, got them back on track. In fact, they lived at the same location that Eric Clapton had stayed when he created his “comeback” album, 461 Ocean Boulevard.

They created the Main Course collection, with the hit Jive Talking. Then the enormous, and unexpected success of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. And, coming along as a complementary artist, was baby brother, Andy Gibb (b. 1958), with hits of his own.

As dance music was co-opted, and pale imitations of it were created – think Disco Duck – a backlash ensued. It was epitomized by Disco Demolition Night, a Major League Baseball promotion on Thursday, July 12, 1979, at Comiskey Park in Chicago.

One of the ushers recalled that there were LPs of several non-disco black artists, such as Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, and Stevie Wonder among the recording to be destroyed. The fans rioted during the event, and the White Sox ended up having to forfeit the second game of the doubleheader.

This time of changing fortunes, the brothers were able to pivot to becoming primarily songwriters, for Barbra, Celine, Diana, Dionne, Dolly, and Kenny, among others. This allowed them room to reach their next act in their careers. It was supposed to be with Andy Gibb as an official member of the Bee Gees. Unfortunately, he died on 10 March 1988, at the age of 30, as a result of an inflammation of the heart muscle.

Barry, by himself

Then Maurice, the chief negotiator between Barry and Robin, died unexpectedly on 12 January 2003, at the age of 53. He suffered a heart attack while awaiting emergency surgery to repair a strangulated intestine.

The surviving brothers bounced between solo gigs and the occasional duet. Late in 2011, it was announced that Robin Gibb had been diagnosed with liver cancer, which he had known about for several months. He died on 20 May 2012 of liver and kidney failure. He was 62.

The Bee Gees, though in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1997, has been, to my mind, undervalued and unnecessarily vilified. Their resilience and reinvention over the decades alone are praiseworthy. Recorded music they’ve performed and/or written is in the hundreds of millions of units.

The documentary had a few new insightful interviews with other artists. Eric Clapton was also signed to Stigwood. Nick Jonas and Oasis’ Noel Gallagher amplified the tricky balance of performing with one’s brothers.

Barry is still performing and recording. But he noted that he’d give up all the fame if he could have his brothers back. How Can You Mend a Broken Heart indeed?

“I can think of younger days when living for my life
Was everything a man could want to do
I could never see tomorrow, but I was never told about the sorrow.”

Movie- All In: The Fight for Democracy

Stacey Abrams

All InThe documentary All In: The Fight for Democracy is very good. And quite infuriating. As the New York Times  subtitle of the review notes, “with snapshots and stories of voter suppression yesterday and today, [it] carries an urgent message: Vote!”

But they don’t make it easy. “The broad strokes of the history in the film are likely to be familiar to viewers, but some of the details may not be… The recurring theme is that every major advancement for voting rights in the United States has been met with a counterreaction that hollows out those rights.”

Yet the Constitution points to a broadening of the right. Read amendments 14, 15, 19, 23, 24, and 26, and arguably others.

The movie describes the Florida debacle., where the citizens voted to allow ex-felons to vote, but the state essentially reneged. I wrote about that here.

Stacey Abrams

The Stacey Abrams experience is mentioned early. She was the Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia in 2018, running against Republican Brian Kemp. Tens of thousands of voters were disenfranchised by the state Secretary of State, who was Brian Kemp. It was like playing tennis with the chair umpire.

“Abrams’s sections of the film are also a memoir: She remembers her grandmother telling her about casting her first vote, after the Voting Rights Act passed, and how she still felt terrified to exercise her franchise. At another point, Abrams notes that chronic voter suppression has had a ‘pernicious’ effect: ‘It convinces you that maybe it’s not worth trying again,’ she says.

“In its shifting of topics and breadth of material, “All In” gives the impression of being a movie that the directors, Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés, rushed to complete to meet the moment. (There is footage of Wisconsinites voting during the pandemic in April.) In a sense, it’s less a documentary for posterity than an urgent broadcast.”

Voter Suppression

The Times article refers to Carol Anderson, “a professor of African American studies at Emory, as “one of the most engaging interviewees.” She “relates the story of Maceo Snipes, a World War II veteran in Georgia who was the only African-American to vote in his area in 1946.” He was shot and killed for his effort.

She and “journalist Ari Berman…discuss… Chief Justice John G. Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion in [the evil] Shelby County v. Holder” case. That’s the “2013 decision that struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act,” from which a lot of new disenfranchisement stemmed. Roberts “had been a foe of the act as a young lawyer.”

Oh, check out this related website to find out how to register and vote.

Thumbs way up

The 62 critics who reviewed All In at Rotten Tomatoes were unanimous in their praise of the film. It addresses “barriers to voting that most people don’t even know is a threat to their basic rights as citizens.” “A thorough but accessible guide to the history of voting in the US and what that history means for the electorate today.”

This definitely rings true: “The dismaying ebb and flow of justice is a major point in the film, with multiple pundits noting that periods of swift progress are often followed by equally if not more stringent rollbacks.” And it “makes a very convincing argument that the right to vote needs to be protected, and that democracy itself is under siege.”

More yin and yang: Stacey Abrams, a producer of the film, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to expand access to the right to vote. And Republicans have ALREADY introduced over 100 voter suppression bills in 2021.

Movie documentary: Boys State

youth politics

Boys StateOK, I’ve decided that I need to try to systematically see more movies. Recent movies. Normally, I would be at the cinema a lot this month, but I’m not. Luckily, I saw this list  of Ty Burr’s “Watch these 10 recent movies.”

Currently, I don’t have Netflix or Disney+ or Hulu, or HBO Max. But only since the end of December, I do have Apple TV+. I bought a new phone, which I haven’t figured out how to operate yet. But it came with a free year of the streaming service. And Boys State is available presently on that platform.

It is a “documentary about the Texas version of the one-week civics program where high school kids divide into parties and run for office.” As a political science junkie, this could be heaven or horrific. I found it closer to the former. “It had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 24, 2020, where the film won the U.S. Documentary Competition Grand Jury Prize.” Then it was released in August.

One may be potentially seeing “the next generation of politicians.” The program is sponsored by the American Legion across the country, with separate tracks for boys and girls. Alumni include political figures as diverse as Bill Clinton, Samuel Alito, Dick Cheney, Cory Booker, and Rush Limbaugh.

Politics, and tricks

Are the young men better than what we have now, or are they just emulating the mistakes of the adults they admire? “They are fascinatingly complex.” For certain. “Boys State shows that those [noble] aims can only do so much to keep the uglier side of that process at bay,” Erik Adams of AV Club noted.

One candidate for governor took a position diametrically opposed to what he believed because thought it would be more palatable to the constituents. Steven, on the other hand, was “a young man whose political skills are second to his open-mindedness and decency. In short, there’s hope.”

I highly recommend Boys State.