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What to watch during the polar vortex. *UPDATED*

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It’s going to be -54 degrees in Chicago this week. Everything is shut down, even in a rate twist, Chicago Public Schools. If you don’t live here, that’s a local joke. CPS rarely closes. This means most of us, hopefully, will be inside looking for something to binge. Here are a handful of my favorites for streaming that you may have missed. I’m skipping the obvious choices and giving you some of my personal favs. This list leans toward the genres of : thriller, science fiction, action adventure and documentary scale. Genres that you won’t find too much on Oscar or Golden Globe lists but should be. In any respect, enjoy and stay warm!


UPDATED SUGGESTIONS 1.30.19

ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD; NETFLIX

What is it like living in Antartica? Meet the people who live there. This doc explores human nature in places where you spend most of your time in darkness. Herzog adds his poetic commentary and thoughtful interviews in conjunction with gorgeous footage. It’ll make you appreciate winter in ways you haven’t thought about yet.

THE SUMMIT

A nail biter from beginning to end. The best reenactments I have seen on film for a story like this. It’s a harrowing tale that will have your heart pounding. By far my favorite of the mountaineering gone wrong documentaries.

THE THING: Rent it

Classic horror, also takes place in Antartica. I miss these old monster movies. I love the props and old school movie make-up. Created before everything was computer generated. This icy thriller is a great cold weather view.

FORTITUDE; AMAZON PRIME

This takes the best things about The Thing and puts it into modern times. Shot in Iceland … my hubby and I actually went to the town that this was shot in. The scenery is sure to go with our frigid weather but the mystery will have you guessing till the end. Wonderful performances. Highly recommend this one.

SNOWPIERCER; ITUNES on sale this week

This one is really good. I love me some Tilda, she is fantastic as a bad guy. It’s an action movie on a train that uses every action movie on a train trope but it does so in surprising ways. We ended up buying it after watching it on amazon last year. They took it off amazon, so you’ll have to rent it but it’s a great cold weather watch.

MOON; NETFLIX

If you feel like you’ve got cabin fever … this movie is for you. Imagine being on the moon, isolated and alone. The desolate and cold atmosphere and stellar perforce of Sam Rockwell makes this a must watch. It’s SOOO GOOD.

LIFE BELOW ZERO ; NETFLIX

Want to see what it takes to live in the Alaskan wild? These guys are doing it off the grid. They hunt and grow their own food, gather wood for fuel and heat, they trade with each other. It’s crazy to see what it takes to live off the grid in winter. Makes me appreciate my modern amenities.


MANIAC ; NETFLIX 

This show seemed to go under the radar. I have no clue why. It’s super fun, cerebral and weird. I would call it a strange psychological thriller set inside a highly designed universe that is a mash up of the 70s, 80s and 90s nostalgia. Imagine the set from Aliens, the technology from war-games and the strangeness of an ayahuasca trip mashed up with a few noir genres that is kinda like Vanilla Sky meets 12 Monkeys.

If you are struggling to follow, that’s because Maniac is hard to put in a box. If you can make it through the flashiness, underneath is a really beautiful and painful truth about human nature. That there is no easy fix for the darkness of life. We all need help, community and love to pull through. Perhaps that sounds a little hokey, but I promise this show delivers and may require multiple viewings. 

HEREDITARY ; AMAZON PRIME 


So I wrote a super long blog on this movie after seeing it in the theaters. It is by far the best horror film created in the past 15 years. It doesn’t have jump scares or flashy special effects. It’s a trauma based horror film. One that should have gotten an Oscar nomination for it’s lead actress. I LOVED this film for it’s brave and brazen portrayal of female vulnerability and power while exploring extreme grief. But be warned. You may need therapy after. You can read my blog about it here. 

EIGHTH GRADE ; AMAZON PRIME 

Why this one wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, I don’t know. I certainly liked it better than Lady Bird. It’s awkward, weird and adorable. Yes, it captures a midwest white suburban girl experience of 8th grade that we see on screen all the time- but it does so extremely well. While culturally, it doesn’t push any boundaries, it was the first film I’ve seen that tackles awkwardness without trying to overly transform the leading lady into a modern beauty. My favorite part, was that it painted young girls the way I knew myself to be: average, awkward, weird and smart. It brought back all the squirmy feelings I had growing up. I loved the script. I always feel like this girl when I put something out on the internet with my blogs or social media. Totally relatable.

THE BALAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS; NETFLIX 

This anthology is really really good. The stories are solid and the writing is on point. My only wish was that they diversify the cast a bit more. I think this would have been even better if they branched out and added some people of color. Having been to New Mexico recently, I also dig the scenery. It’s beautifully shot.

DARK TOURIST; NETFLIX 

Travel to the weird places, do the weird things. That’s the premise of this one. I wish the host was more Bordain like, in that I sometimes think he can be a little disrespectful in the way that white tourists can be annoying BUT he does some weird things that I wanted to see. Like a trip to Fukushima or a tour that attempts to give you an experience of crossing a border illegally. Easy watch and can break up any of the above if they are too serious. 

KEN BURNS , THE WEST 

Yes, he can put you to sleep. But if you want a really great history lesson this one is amazing, comprehensive and more woke than your typical history doc. I learned so much about America’s past. WAY more that I was ever taught. It really shifted my view of the typical white “western,” story. Which is why I think Buster Scruggs missed out on a crucial casting step. I appreciated how the interviews with Native Americans were handled, they really lead the story and I think thats important. It’s long. So it could take you a few days to finish this one. I’ve been watching it a little bit here and there for a few months. 

FYRE OR FYRE FRAUD

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Join the long list of people throwing their hat into this ring. It was a crazy party that never happened. It’s stupidity and criminality that was made for reality TV. Also wrote a blog about these. Where I offer a more critical look at the two docs. You choose. Netflix or Hulu. 


BANDERSNATCH, BLACK MIRROR 

Speaking of choice. Have you Bandersnatched yet? You may want to watch season 3-4 of Black Mirror too but Bandersnatch is clever. You’ll enjoy your choices and seeing them play out. I love how they involve you in the story with the writing and can’t imagine plotting out a story like this. It reminds me of video games but with more cinematic cut scenes. You’ll need a device that allows you to make the choices. Apple TV won’t work but several others do. My favorite gem happens in the therapists office.

THE STAIRCASE; NETFLIX 

If you like true crime, this one is at the top of my list. Start one episode, you’ll watch them all. This case is full of so many twists and turns but what I really loved about it was watching a family deal with grace under horrible circumstances. I am still on the fence on where I stand as an audience juror. The filmmakers do a nice job of keeping you guessing. Its a great alternative to Making a Murderer. 

MINDHUNTER; NETFLIX 

See how the FBI started the behavior profiling division of serial killers and coined the term. It’s macabre true crime drama at it’s best. The actors were given the real tapes from the serial killers to use to develop their characters and the performances are spine chilling. Season 2 will include a few infamous men and the Ted Bundy series is sure to “T," that up nicely. The last episode had me on the edge of my seat. It’s the real life Silence Of The Lambs that will make you question why you like it so much. I was surprised that I didn’t hear more about this show. It was like a good book. Couldn’t put it down. 

TRIGGER WARNING ; NETFLIX

Killer Mike from Run the Jewels is hilarious. Episodes 1-4 are amazing. You’ll laugh and question things in new ways. Really like this approach to cultural problem solving. The humor only points out the seriousness of the issues he presents, which is what makes this pretty progressive. My favorite episode is the Crips and Bloods soda. I’ve always said that gangs have marketable skills, they just need help learning legal forms of business. Killer Mike tackles that in the best way and the focus group is important to see. I wasn’t crazy about the last episode but the first 4 is great TV. 

CHILDREN OF MEN; NETFLIX  

This is one of my favorite dystopian films. Made before dystopian was hip in that young adult novel way. It was feminist long before The Handmaids Tale. If you don’t remember much about it, I highly recommend a repeat viewing. With our current climate, this one suddenly feels fresh again. Directed by the same man who directed Roma. I actually think this is his best film.

Worth renting: MAD MAX FURY ROAD

Speaking of dystopian. You guys, this movie got added to my favorite films of all time the second I saw it in theaters. Don’t let the trailer turn you off, it’s badly cut. I could have done better. A good chase sequence is hard to film, so I respect the craftsmanship. Fury Road was the first action film I’ve seen with a male lead that stepped aside for the females. Furiosa became my spirit animal. It’s an allegorical high octane dystopian rock opera on crack. It’s about feminism, war, capitalism, climate change and toxic masculinity without saying any of those words. I loved how the writers mashed up language and developed a theology created by a dictator that borrows from history, pop culture and rock and roll. The stunts were all filmed live in the desert and they will have you scratching you heads on how they did it. It takes the best of the old Mad Max films and improves the purpose. I think .. that might be my next blog. It’s so fun to pick apart all the symbolism. 

That’s it. What would you add to the list?

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A Tale of Two FYRE Documentaries.

Which unfinished camp do you fall into? Netflix or Hulu? Here is a quick review of both and my personal preference. 

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NETFLIX : FYRE 

First thing to note about this documentary, it’s created by the marketing company behind the festival, F$@!Jerry. That’s important to know as an audience member so you can understand the bias of the film. Documentaries are inherently biased. This is hotly debated among creators. I think understanding the creators is almost as important as the documentary itself. So what does that mean for FYRE? 

An exclusive behind the scenes look at the infamous unraveling of the Fyre music festival. Launching globally on Netflix on January 18, 2019. Created by Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, Fyre Festival was promoted as a luxury music festival on a private island in the Bahamas featuring bikini-clad supermodels, A-List musical performances and posh amenities.

I think the most interesting thing about this documentary is the victimized stance of anyone involved in the creation of the festival. Everyone seems to point fingers at Billy. Especially the marketing company. They even take the stance that by not paying Billy for an interview, they are not contributing to the madness any further. Yet, that are ok with profiting off the story. Yeah, ok guys.

It just falls flat.

While this documentary is shot really well. It’s flashy, it’s funny and feels outrageous because the story is outrageous. It takes no stance on the subject or the depth of it’s characters. The narrative is: “Look at this train wreck story, isn’t it crazy?”

To me, it feels like one long marketing video for F@!$Jerry. They position themselves as the geniuses who made FYRE huge and then watched it burn to the ground without taking any responsibility for it’s creation. I imagine a big corporate client watching this and going “Hey, we should hire them!” They don’t dive into any real discussion about the responsibilities of marketers in our digital time. That is a huge, deep and interesting topic. One that influences elections, money and power in ways that we are only really starting to understand.

I did love hearing the story of the initial promotional video. I’ve been there. Unreasonable expectations by a client to create the MOST EPIC VIDEO OF ALL TIME, while going around every filmmaking process that ensures great results. But we glossed over a major dynamic on this shoot. The use of the girls. The toast JaRule gives says it all “Here’s to living’ like movie stars, partying like rockstars and F$!@ing like porn stars.”

No one talked about the ethics of what they were doing while filming the promo. They show interactions between Billy, JaRule and the models and it made me want to cringe. Men with power, filming women on a deserted island with no structure. They came up with ideas that would be “cool,” and ask the models to participate in the fantasy. It’s gross. A rich boys club gone wild. I kept waiting for some of the interviews to point out the ethics of it all. Not just the creation of the marketing, I wondered where the responsibility of everyone involved. Seriously, what was with the “take one for the team,” story. Borderline harassment. If my boss ever told me to give a blow job for the good of the team, I’d report him. Tone deaf to include that and gloss over it like it was a locker room story. Ick.

The “characters," keep moving the project forward, claiming to be on an almost unstoppable train. I wondered, why? No one really answers that question. 

As a director, I wonder why we don’t go here. It’s the most interesting exploration of human behavior. Why did people continue to play along when there were clear red flags in every direction? The filmmakers never ask this. The best interviews were from the workers on the islands. That community had the most substance simply because they had the most to loose out of this situation.

At the end of the day, F$!@Jerry made a documentary on Netflix that got us all to watch, point our fingers and go “man how messed up is that!” But the real underbelly of the story isn’t explored. This documentary barley touches on consequences of the fraud of the festival or what happened to the islanders afterward. It ends almost abruptly. The most interesting footage at the end is the business meeting where Billy and JaRule try to convince employees to stick with them. They attempt to share the story about VIP NYC but I didn’t fully understand it till I saw the Hulu documentary. Then, like the festival, the documentary ends. With a whimper and a cheese sandwich. 

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The documentary attempts to poke fun at the fact that the world loved seeing the festival fail and that’s the most interesting stance it takes. It lacks a meta voice. An outside perspective to place the story within social and cultural context. I wanted more zeitgeist. Fyre is a documentary created by a marketing company and it feels like just that. 

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The best thing to come out of this one is what happened after it’s release. The owner of the catering company that lost tons of money on the island, Maryann Rolle, raises over 100K on go fund me as a result of her tearful interview and Jerry Media donated over 30K of that.

So good for you guys.

The real victims of this whole story are the islanders and none of the documentaries attempt to tell their story with the depth that it deserves and cost of that deception. This tearful interview is all you will get between both docs. I think we could do better.


HULU: FYRE FRAUD 

FYRE FRAUD is a true-crime comedy exploring a failed music festival turned internet meme at the nexus of social media influence, late-stage capitalism, and morality in the post-truth era. The Fyre Festival was the defining scam of the millennial generation, at the nexus of social media influence, late-stage capitalism, and morality in the post-truth era.

Right out of the gate, the title and description should clue you in. The tone is different than the Netflix documentary. A true-crime comedy. They secretly drop their documentary the night before Netflix. Sneaky, sneaky guys.

Worth noting, Hulu’s documentary paid for an interview with Billy. So this story has Billy as a main character in it’s structure. Hotly debated is paying for that interview. People are paid for interviews all the time. We pay criminals for their stories all the time. So personally, I don’t care that they paid him. It does add a nice element to the story. 

This documentary takes a stronger stance on that meta voice that I felt was missing from the Netflix version. I really liked how they dove into Billy as a character. They hit the fraud harder. They place the instagram campaign in social context in ways that helps me think about the bigger picture. It’s not a home run. Some of the themes I mentioned above don’t get a deep dive, but this documentary tries a little more to have a meta voice and structure.

Fyre Fraud takes more of a stance on story.

Fyre Fraud takes the position that the festival and Billy were fraudulent from the beginning. It seeks to tear down the “We tried something so big, we got in over our heads and failed,” narrative that the lawyers for Billy have spun. It paints Billy as a con artist from the get go. It’s not as flashy as the Netflix version. It’s not as funny. But it feels more like a documentary to me. There is more research. More outside perspective interviews and a larger point that they are trying to prove.

Billy’s interview tips the scales for me. I am really interested in how the Billy’s of the world are created and perpetuated by society. I loved the millennial lens. The connection to escapism and fantasy selling. Discussion of wealth and power. But we still don’t talk to the islanders enough. I don’t think the consequences of the story are as clear as they could be. 


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The closer we get to people arriving on the island, the more the footage is the same. It’s almost like both documentaries were working with the same batch of collected footage with a few new surprises. Cutting back and forth to Billy, who looks like he is shrinking in his seat, is more compelling than the Netflix version. From here, we get a closer look at the lawsuits and issues that arise after the attempted festival. 


The new information we get here is what Billy did in the hours and months after the festival, his conviction and, the depth of his delusions. They pose the question about his six year prison sentence, was it enough?

Finally some one says what I’ve been thinking: “Don’t just focus on Billy. There are lots of people who helped Billy create fraud so they could make money too.”

Was that enough to satisfy my point? Not really. I would have loved to see the creators ask people about their responsibility in a deep and critical way. A credit sequence reveals that the workers on the island were never paid, Grant was fined, JaRule distances himself from the backlash and they point out that F@1$Jerry made the Netflix documentary and they pose the question about marketers responsibility. I didn’t like that we waited till the end to do so, but I’ll take it.


The verdict: I think FYRE FRAUD attempts to tell a fuller story and at least booked you into that villa on the island. So it gets my vote as the better doc. 

I think that the FYRE Festival is a great zeitgeist of our time. A reflection of the power and influence that marketing can have to create big things while at the same time exploiting others for financial gain. We LOVED seeing rich white kids fail. The meme’s were hilarious. I think everyone likes a good train wreck story. I also wonder why.

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The perception of white collar fraud in our country is flawed to say the least. I think most people see these documentaries and don’t fully understand the depth of the crime. We poke fun and make a joke without understanding the real consequences beyond sunburn and delayed flights. We create the perfect martyr in our con artist Billy persona and watch him fail with delight. We gloss over the racial and social justice topics. It doesn’t bother anyone that they essentially exploited a poverty stricken island for the festival and then didn’t pay them? What happened to the islanders? Why do we tell Billy’s story and not theirs? Where is the responsibility of everyone involved? How do we prevent the Billy’s of the world from creating more situations like this? If it were me, I would have told the story from the perspective of the islanders first. That would have been compelling.

Honestly, wasn’t crazy about either of them. It’s a great story but both lack depth. Ironically, like the almost-festival that they document, they disappoint.

Good documentaries entertain us, Compelling documentaries ask great questions and challenge our perceptions.

Neither of these are compelling by those standards. They do entertain though. I am curious, what did you think?

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6 Upsetting Documentaries you have to see and Why

I read the news every morning over coffee. By the time I finish my cup, I can not read any more.

The world is too upsetting. 

Sometimes I can’t tell if it’s our media pumping out the worst of the world for ratings or if things really are that bad. This does not stop me from reading. 

In fact, I do it because it upsets me. I think if more people paid attention this way, our world might be a better place. Not because I am going to run out and become an activist for every cause that upsets me, because that is imposible. It is because I am open to experiencing the upset of the world that it changes me.

I know there is no way I can solve every problem, but that does not mean I should ignore them. When the times comes, I find that my education on topics such as this help me make compassionate decisions. 

When discussing the recent events that lead to our nation’s topic on gun control, a friend of mine was telling me how “shocked” she was at how horrible mass violence has become. I laughed and said, to her dismay, that I was not shocked at all. 

When she inquired why I told her this: 

"We all have the capability to do horrific acts of violence and unspeakable evil to one another. To deny that part of yourself is to deny our nature. Under the right circumstances, you too could make a choice you currently see as horrific. Whether premeditated or impulsive it does not matter. The evil in our world does not simply go away because you choose to ignore it. It exists, pulsing through your viens. I am not shocked to hear the awful things that happen because I know that I myself am wholly capable of doing the same. It is that awareness of this truth that allows me to make that choice. We have yet to evolve to a place where we can see that some people are not aware of the difference. We treat the body, not the mind. Until we strive to understand ourselves more deeply - these acts will continue." 

So buck up, open your heart and watch one of these. Don’t be shocked the next time something happens. This is also why I love documentary. It has the power to change, educate and open your heart and mind. Netflix is full of amazing documentary work. Brave filmmakers who dare to enter these spaces so that you can learn about them. 

They are phenomenally courageous films, and I highly recommend you watch them. 

1. Mugabe and the White African. 

A farmer and his family fight a corrupt government to save their South African farm in Zimbabwe. This film is beautifully shot and heartbreaking. This documentary got short listed for an Oscar and beat out by Burma VJ (Also on Netflix). Between the two, I think this one is stronger. When the last slide comes up before the credits, I broke into tears. More people need to know this story. It will challenge how you view race, government and the traditional hero.  

2. The Cove

I am sure you have heard of this one. You may have even been cautioned to watch it. It documents what happens in a cove in Japan. Illegal fishing of dolphins. You need to see this. Then understand that we do this to animals on our home turf. This is not ok and has to stop. 

3. Dark Days

Beautiful black and white fllm about a homeless community that set up camp in the NY subway system. This movie will change the way you see your city and how you treat the man asking you for help in the subway. 

4. Cry of the Snow Lion

Forget that our history is littered with instances of people wiping out people. We still live in that world. This documentary follows the people of Tibet in exile. Here is a leadership corageous enough to call for peaceful means a world where others might take up arms. *cough* like us? 

5. Radio Bikini

This 1988 documentary literally blew my mind. Releasing declassified military footage of the 1946 atomic bomb tests on Bikini Atoll. You get to see the tests cut to interviews of those that were there. I sat with my mouth open the whole time, wanting to believe that what I saw was fake. I just… you have to see it. 

6. The Interrupters. 

I saved this one for last. Because it is happening on home turf. Want a bold inside look at what Chicago’s real problems are with youth violence? Then you have to see this. Forget Obama’s speech and gun law regulations. This will help you understand why none of that will work. I have never seen a filmmaker get closer and more raw honesty then this in Chicago. It is DVD only, but so worth it. 

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