KAJILLIONAIRE (2020)

September 24, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. A single month with new releases from both Charlie Kaufman (I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS) and Miranda July, is almost enough to make this movie lover forget for a moment that we are suffering through a global pandemic, raging forest fires, and the most obscene presidential campaign of my lifetime. Ms. July is an absurdly talented writer and filmmaker, and it’s her first feature length film since THE FUTURE (2011). Prior to that, she served up ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW (2005), and has a unique way of displaying her strange life observations. She and Kaufman are masters of quirk, and excel in twisting our minds.

Evan Rachel Wood stars as Old Dolio Dyne, daughter of Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (an unrecognizable Debra Winger). This is an oddball family of petty crime con artists who live in a run down, unused office next to the Bubbles, Inc. factory. And yes, they make bubbles in the factory … bubbles that seep through the walls into the office where this family sleeps. One of their scams is on the landlord (a surreal character himself) who has to explain to an always-negotiating Robert that “rent is an installment”.

The first part of the film allows us to get to know the family members. We see them pull off stealing mail from a neighboring post office box, and returning stolen goods for the reward. Ms. Wood stays attired in an oversized green track suit jacket, and has lowered her speaking voice by an octave, adding impact to her monotone liners. She’s socially awkward, and likely on the spectrum as she seems to be the smartest of the bunch. Daddy Robert is a control freak and has an emotional disability in regards to California earthquake tremors. He and Theresa show no signs of affection towards each other or Old Dolio.

An airline baggage scam results in the family meeting Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), an eager to join the grifters woman, whom Old Dolio sees as her replacement as both a daughter and partner. Jealousy ensues. Melanie is contrasted to Old Dolio by her bubbly personality, and by a wardrobe that is significantly more revealing than a tattered track suit. Old Dolio watches uneasily as Melanie is soon receiving the attention from Robert and Theresa that their own daughter craves.

The second half evolves into a film not so much about cons or heists (the film admits it’s no OCEANS 11), as about family dynamics. The twists and turns find Melanie helping Old Dolio break free of parental over-control in order to experience independence … and pancakes. Learning about warmth and affection from “normal” families is eye-opening for her, and sometimes a little confusing for us to follow.  Who is scamming whom, and when are they telling the truth?

Miranda July has created a crime-drama-comedy (dark comedy), with plenty of space to let the characters and dialogue breathe. “I’m Mr. Lonely” by Bobby Vinton kicks in periodically, and the score from Emile Mosseri (THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO) complements it well. On the heels of last year’s team of family scamsters in PARASITE, this shaggy group has never met a swindle they wouldn’t try. And they never expected it to backfire with their own daughter. The divide between those who like the film and those who don’t was pretty clear after Sundance, and Miranda July will likely never be one to appeal to the masses. But for those of us who connect with her oddball way of seeing life, we appreciate the focus on what makes a family of outsiders click … especially when a superb performance from Evan Rachel Wood drives the film.

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OTTOLENGHI AND THE CAKES OF VERSAILLES (doc, 2020)

September 24, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness.  Food, art, and history. There may not be a connection at your local McDonalds, but there certainly is among the world’s most renowned chefs. Director Laura Gabbert (CITY OF GOLD, 2015) documents the story beginning with Yotam Ottolenghi receiving an email from the Metropolitan Museum of Art asking him to curate a culinary presentation in conjunction with the museum’s 2018 “Visitors to Versailles” exhibit, covering the years 1682-1789, just prior to the French Revolution.

Ottolenghi is an accomplished chef (with a test kitchen in London), restauranteur, and described as the most influential cookbook author. Born in Israel, he’s our charming and exceedingly intelligent guide through this global process. Ottolenghi toured The Met and Versailles, and explains his rationale for focusing on desserts – a beautiful and colorful symbol of wealth and excess from the era. He then sets out to assemble a pastry “Dream Team” consisting of: Dominique Angel, the French pastry chef who invented the Cronut; Dinara Kasko, a trained Ukrainian 3D architectural design expert-turned-chef who now builds her own 3D molds for food; Ghaya Oliveira, born in Tunisia and now the pastry chef at NYC’s elite Daniel restaurant; Bompas and Parr, the British chefs known for technology and jellies – though only Sam Bompas takes part in the project; and Janice Wong, a Singapore chef who specializes in ‘edible art’.

We learn the inspirations for each of the chefs, from the gardens and fountains of Versailles to the particular flavors of the era. Ottolenghi takes us into the kitchens, as well as allowing access to the strategy sessions with managers at The Met. Ms. Gabbert’s film offers a glimpse at the craftsmanship, creativity, and artistry of these chefs as they work towards the big night. The final presentations are dazzling works of art themselves, and ironically (or maybe not) are enjoyed by the elites in attendance at the event. Marie Antoinette’s beheading may have been ‘a just dessert’ for an era of decadence, but the beauty of what these modern day artists have created is quite something to behold … and a nice respite from the world’s turmoil.

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ALL ROADS LEAD TO PEARLA (2020)

September 24, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Rural, small town America forms an appealing backdrop for filmmakers due to the great divide: those who are desperate to “shake the dust off” and head for greener grass, and those who can’t imagine any other way of life. In his first feature length film, writer-director-editor-producer Van Ditthavong seizes on the small town atmosphere to create a sense of danger that complements the above-mentioned divide.

Alex MacNicoll stars as Brandon, a high school wrestler in non-stop training mode – replete with nose bleeds, early morning runs, and the quest to cut weight. Brandon lives in a trailer with his mother (Morgana Shaw) who has never gotten over the death of Brandon’s beloved brother. She’s an aggressive griever and takes out her anger on Brandon, leaving him squarely in the “can’t wait to get out of this town” mode. Brandon and Ellie (Paige McGarvin), the local grocery checker, are attracted to each other, yet, despite her warning, Brandon falls for the wicked charms of the mysterious bad girl Pearla (Addison Timlin, FALLEN). Naïve Brandon knows nothing of the town’s criminal underbelly, but Pearla is connected to the psychotic Oz (Dash Mihok, “Ray Donovan”), who is part of it.

Mihok seems to revel in playing the deranged Oz. He expertly balances his scenes as a vicious mask-wearing, gun-toting thug with his small town country-bumpkin mentality … one who spells bidet, “b-a-d-a-y”. Somehow in a town this small, almost no one is who they appear to be. This certainly includes Coach Baker (played by Nick Chinlund, who you’ll likely recall from CON AIR), the motivating wrestling coach with a dark side. Also in the ‘bad guy’ mix are Cowboy Loy (Corin Nemac) who is after revenge on Pearla, and shop owner Mamo (Tina Parker), who seems to control the local crime element, or at least tries to – “Nobody steals from me”.

Brandon’s English class covers a pertinent passage from Orwell’s “1984”, and his big dream involves saving enough money to drive his truck to El Paso for a job on an oil rig. There is some similarity in tone to the Coen Brothers’ classic BLOOD SIMPLE (1984), but of course, Mr. Ditthavong is not yet at that level as a filmmaker. However, for a low budget film that sometimes mixes up day and night, it benefits from nice performances and an atmosphere of dread. The entertainment value is such that I look forward to more projects from the cast and Van Ditthavong.

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BLACKBIRD (2020)

September 17, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Even though death is imminent for each of us, we don’t all get the opportunity to say goodbye to loved ones. For those who do, it may not go as smoothly as they’d imagined. This is especially true if they are choosing to end things on their own terms due to a terminal illness. Roger Michell (NOTTING HILL, 1999; VENUS, 2006) directs this remake of the 2014 Danish film SILENT HEART (directed by Bille August), both written by Christian Torpe.

Family matriarch Lily (Oscar winner Susan Sarandon) has a terminal illness, and has arranged for the family to return home for one final get-together. See, Lily, with the assistance of her doting doctor husband Paul (Sam Neill) is planning to ‘go’ on her own terms, while it’s still physically possible for her to take the medicinal potion. “Death with dignity”, or euthanasia, is becoming a more frequent topic in films and conversation, despite still being illegal in most states. Of course, the legal and moral questions are heavily debated, but when it’s a family member, it’s the emotions that heat up.

First to arrive is eldest daughter Jennifer (Oscar winner Kate Winslet) and her husband Michael (Rainn Wilson, “The Office”) and their son Jonathan (Anson Boon, CRAWL). Kate is the uptight, demanding type who is always judging others – including her nerdy well-meaning husband, and her free-spirited son. The younger daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska) arrives with her partner Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus, “The Killing”), and it’s immediately clear that Jennifer and Anna are personality opposites (with some baggage), and that Anna is carrying an unspoken burden. Last to arrive is long-time family friend Liz (Lindsay Duncan), who is so close to Lily and Paul, that the family photographs show her on many family vacations and events over the years.

This has the look and feel of a stage presentation, as most of the scenes are filled with dialogue and occur within the confines of the stunning east coast home, apparently designed by Lily. There is a family walk along the beach and dunes, but most of the run time is filled with interpersonal interactions – some pleasant, some not pleasant at all. In fact, an early (by a couple of months) Christmas family dinner is sprinkled with pot smoking and emotional outbursts. It turns out, not surprisingly, that some of the secrets previously kept, find their way out into the open causing a few bumps in Lily’s farewell weekend.

The complexities of family dynamics are amplified in this situation. Who is ready and who isn’t, and why, becomes a topic of multiple discussions. We never really learn the meaning of the film’s title, but we do enjoy the work of so many fine actors. You might recall Susan Sarandon played a dying woman more than 20 years ago in STEPMOM (1998), and this movie blends two memorable and recent films: FRANKIE with Isabelle Huppert, and HERE AWHILE with Anna Camp. Saying goodbye is never easy, but it sure beats missing the chance.

In theaters and On Demand beginning September 18, 2020

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THE NEST (2020)

September 17, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. I’m not sure how to officially protest, but this is writer-director Sean Durkin’s first feature film since the excellent and thought-provoking MARCY MARTHA MAY MARLENE in 2011.  Okay, he directed a TV mini-series (“Southcliffe”) in that span, but there really should be some kind of ordinance mandating (or at least pleading with) Mr. Durkin to share his art more frequently. His approach is not conventional, and it challenges the eye and mind. The story doesn’t move at the pace we’ve come to expect, and the characters – though quite believable – don’t always act the way we expect.

Jude Law stars as Rory O’Hara, a business man with big dreams … dreams far bigger than his work ethic. Carrie Coon (“Fargo”, GONE GIRL) co-stars as his wife Allison. This husband and wife couldn’t be more different. Where Rory is the big-talking blow-hard who, Allison is the down-to-earth horse trainer. Oona Roche plays teenage daughter Samantha, and Charlie Shotwell (CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, 2016) is the younger Benjamin. Durkin does a nice job with the family set-up in the first few minutes of the film. We get a sense of each, as well as the family dynamics. There is a great shot of Rory sitting idly at his desk, and soon after he wakes up Allison with a cup of coffee and the announcement that they need to move to London.

The film is set in the 1980’s (the Reagan-Thatcher era), and Rory’s desperation to prove his business acumen is on full display when he meets his old (now new again) boss Arthur (Michael Culkin). Rory is a social climber, intent on keeping up with the Joneses (or whatever they’re called in London), and he’s referred to as “Old British – New American”. He takes it as a compliment, but we soon witness Rory as little more than a fast-talking salesman. A restaurant scene featuring Allison, Rory, and his co-worker Steve (Adeel Akhtar) is brilliantly played, as Rory’s professional life begins to unravel at a pace matching that of his family life.

We see each of the family members cut loose in their own way, in an attempt to deal with the strain. Timid Benjamin lashes out at school. Samantha throws a wild bash at the family home. Allison guzzles gin and lets go on the dance floor. Speaking of the family home – it’s an old mansion that is the loudest symbol of Rory’s stretch to impress. The film seems to tease us a couple of time in regards to possible paranormal activity within the home, but that’s simply Durkin’s misdirection. The only thing rotten or haunted is the make-up of the family. Their domestic dysfunction is horror in its own right.

Rory’s delusions of grandeur and worshipping of money are finally thrown back in his face during a tremendous scene of Taxicab philosophy. When asked what he does for a living, Rory answers, “I pretend to be rich”, in what may be his only moment of clarity. Jude Law is superb as the charming guy we don’t really like, and Carrie Coon goes toe-to-toe as his polar opposite, and she’s exceptional. Mr. Durkin and cinematographer Matyas Erdely (SON OF SAUL, 2015) keep us off balance with the fascinating shots within the mansion, and startling close-ups that make a point. There is certainly no abundance of light, but this isn’t the type of family that the spotlight tends to find. It’s likely to be a divisive film not embraced by mainstream audiences, but adored by those who crave projects that are creative and different. It played Sundance prior to the pandemic, and now we have to hope we aren’t forced to wait another 9 years for the next Sean Durkin film. Although I will I have to.

In theaters and VOD September 18, 2020

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LOST GIRLS & LOVE HOTELS (2020)

September 17, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. The temptation here is to compare director William Olsson’s latest film to FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. While the two films do share the foundation of best-selling adult erotica novels, this film is darker and grittier, and doesn’t treat the lead as a cartoon character. Catherine Hanrahan wrote both the novel and the screenplay, a likely contributing factor to the more grounded feel to the setting and characters.

Alexandra Daddario stars as Margaret, a young woman living on her own in Tokyo. She works days as an English “pronunciation” teacher at a Flight Attendant Academy. In the evening she imbibes at a local dive bar with other ex-pats (Carice van Houten, Andrew Rothney) before heading out under the neon lights in search of that night’s partner at one of the “love hotels”. Margaret is burning the candle at both ends to an extreme. Her alcohol intake would put most sailors to shame. Is Margaret looking for the meaning of life or just trying to forget? That’s the question we spend most of the story trying to answer.

One day Margaret meets Kazu (played by Takehiro Hira), a dashing Yakuza (organized crime) member. She quickly falls under his spell, and the two have a lustful, fast-moving connection. Of course, traditions being what they are, the relationship can never be the same for Kazu as it is for Margaret. In other words, she finally found love, but with the wrong guy. Margaret as narrator offers up wisdom such as, “I tell myself there are no happy endings.” “Things are ragged and messy.” These sentiments perfectly describe her life.

Margaret is challenging to figure out. We feel her pain and confusion and desperation, though we never fully understand what’s driving it. She’s ‘happy and sad’, and more than just another pretty face. In fact, this dark world of loneliness and sex finds her starting in a bad place and then sinking lower. However, director Olsson and cinematographer Kenji Katori ensure the film is stylish and atmospheric, and no matter how ugly things get for Margaret, the film itself is quite something to look at.

This is a side of Tokyo we don’t often see, and the love hotels are a sub-culture that set up perfectly for those who have lost hope or control of their life. The city seems to prey on some … no matter how beautiful they are. Kudos to Alexander Daddario for taking on this role. She’s been around for a while with memorable appearances in “True Detective” (Season One), SAN ANDREAS (2015), and BAYWATCH (2017). It’s nice to see her go deeper and darker, and let’s hope it opens up some new opportunities for her.

LOST GIRLS & LOVE HOTELS is available on Digital and On Demand September 18, 2020

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RENT-A-PAL (2020)

September 10, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. “Everybody loves somebody sometime.” So sang the great Dean Martin. But what about the exception that proves the rule? Writer-director Jon Stevenson (in his directorial debut) offers up David, a 40 year old lonely heart, who is a full time caregiver for his dementia-afflicted mother. In between cleaning up after his mother and spoon-feeding her meals, David dreams of finding a soul mate.

Brian Landis Folkins stars as David, and he delivers a terrific performance in one of the strangest roles of the year. He manages to make David a guy we care about, despite his being … well … not the most exciting or charismatic dude you’ve met. Does it help that he doesn’t have a job and lives on his mother’s social security? No?  How about the fact that he lives in her basement? Still not impressed? Well, the film takes place around 1990, and David is a member of Video Rendezvous, a VHS dating service – the Match.com of 30 years ago. Getting hopeful for David?  Well you should know he has had zero matches. Poor guy.

One of Mr. Folkins best scenes occurs when we see him filming his personal video for the dating service. Well, it’s his re-do … and then a re-do of his re-do. That’s pretty much how David’s life goes. Later, while rummaging through the VHS tapes bargain bin, he stumbles upon one titled “Rent-A-Pal”. At home, he pops it into the VCR and just like that – Andy (played by Wil Wheaton, STAND BY ME) appears on screen, and over a few days, David and Andy form an odd bond – maybe the strongest bond you’ve seen between a person and a character on screen talking directly to the camera/person watching. Andy is chummy and charismatic, and also a bit creepy. In fact, some of this reminded me of the Mark Duplass movie CREEP.

We witness David deal with the disappointment of each day. He finds some joy when his mother (Kathleen Brady) is reciting Cary Grant’s dialogue in HIS GIRL FRIDAY, and suddenly things look up when he has a match with Lisa (Amy Rutledge). Their first date is at Skate Land, and features the awkward chemistry of two lonely hearts, rather than one. They seem to like each other, though it may just be they are each excited to be noticed by anyone.

Since the film is billed as a thriller, we know things will go sideways at some point. However, even if you figure out where it’s headed, the path it takes may catch you off guard. As the bond between David and Andy crumbles, we witness David’s descent into madness. Whereas his connection to Lisa should have made his life better, his extended loneliness has pushed him to the brink, and he struggles to distinguish between fantasy and reality. The final 10-15 minutes turn very dark (and feel a bit rushed), and are kinda sad to watch. Director Stevenson has ensured a bleak feeling through most of the film with a washed out color palette. The only signs of brightness are the Skate Land sign, the receptionist’s jacket, and Andy’s glowing face on the TV. The performances are fun to watch, and Stevenson’s debut is a keeper. “So long, Pal.”

IFC will release this in select theaters and On Demand September 11, 2020

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I AM WOMAN (2020)

September 10, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Does penning and recording a feminist anthem warrant a film biopic? Well, when the singer is Helen Reddy and the song is “I Am Woman”, the answer is a resounding yes. This is director Unjoo Moon’s first narrative feature film, and she is working with a script from Emma Jensen (MARY SHELLEY, 2017). As with any biopic, its effectiveness comes down to the lead performance. Here, Tilda Cobham-Hervey is both strong and invincible as Ms. Reddy.

We first see a wide-eyed Helen Reddy walking through New York City clutching the hand of her very young daughter Traci after arriving from Australia in 1966. She’s in pursuit of a recording contract, but instead ends up singing at a mostly empty nightclub and living in a roach-infested rundown hotel. It takes almost no time for her to experience multiple instances of sexism and chauvinism. With no prospects for a better life, Helen meets up with fellow ex-pat Lilian Roxon (Danielle Macdonald, PATTI CAKE$, 2017), a journalist who shows her the town and offers her friendship.

Lilian throws a party for Helen, and after locking eyes across the room, Helen meets Jeff Wald (Evan Peters, “American Horror Story”), an up and coming agent at William Morris. By 1968, Wald has convinced Helen that Los Angeles is the place to kick off her singing career, and along with Traci, they move into a beautiful home and fill it with typical California dreaming. Jeff’s managing career starts to build, and Helen gets frustrated at his lack of attention to her career. There are some funny comparisons of Deep Purple, Tiny Tim, and Helen’s singing styles, but finally Capitol Records gives her a shot at recording a single.

Helen’s career takes off, as does her friend Lilian’s, who becomes the ‘Mother of Rock’ with her Rock ‘n Roll Encyclopedia, and subsequent reviews and articles. In fact, Ms. Roxon deserves a biopic or documentary highlighting her influence on rock journalism. As Helen puts out hit records, her husband Jeff is managing many successful acts. Money is pouring in (and out) and in contrast to Helen’s common sense manner, Jeff partakes of drugs and alcohol to extremes. Of course, the key component of Helen’s career and the movie is in regards to her writing the title song … a song that the skeptical executives of Capitol Records said made her sound “too angry”.

It was Lilian who introduced the women’s movement to Helen, but Helen was inherently ambitious and strong-willed … it ended up being the perfect match. Reddy supported the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), even as Phyllis Schlafly fought hard against it. Helen’s 1972 song “I Am Woman” became a huge hit, and later the anthem for a movement. But Helen Reddy’s story isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, and despite a dose of clichés, and some overacting on the part of Peters, the movie does an admirable job showing how she reacted to the challenges.

Director Moon’s husband Dion Beebe (Oscar winner for MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, 2005) is the cinematographer, and he does nice work with the stage performances, as well as the more intimate moments. However, it’s Ms. Cobham-Hervey who stands out. I’ve only previously seen her in HOTEL MUMBAI (2018), and she captures the determination and charisma of Helen Reddy. We see her strength as she instills life lessons in her kids, and goes toe-to-toe with her husband. It’s an impressive performance.

The movie shows us Helen’s 1982 Las Vegas act, and we hear most, if not all, of her hits, “Delta Dawn”, “Leave Me Alone” (actually a pretty annoying song), “You and Me Against the World”, “Angie Baby”, and obviously, “I Am Woman”. Later, in 1989, we see a grown up Traci talk her retired mother into performing her most famous song at the Washington DC rally of the National Organization of Women. It’s quite a moment that encapsulates the empowerment that Helen Reddy devoted her life to. The movie doesn’t go there, but it’s unfortunate that Ms. Reddy has been afflicted with dementia since 2015. Like all great artists, her work will survive her.

In select theaters and VOD on September 11, 2020

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ALL IN: THE FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY (2020, doc)

September 8, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Stacey Abrams is a generational spokesperson, and may very well be the future of the Democrat Party. This despite being recently passed over as Joe Biden’s running mate. Ms. Abrams is a producer on this film co-directed by Lisa Cortes (HIP HOP X FASHION, 2019) and Liz Garbus (nominated for 2 Oscars: WHAT HAPPENED MISS SIMONE?, 2015 and THE FARM: ANGOLA, USA, 1998). She also appears on camera numerous times speaking to us about voter suppression – something which impacted her directly.

The film provides an historical look at the different ways voters have been suppressed and elections manipulated over the years – dating back to 1789, when the film informs, only 6% of the population was eligible to vote: white male property owners. We hear from many historians, authors, politicians, and activists, yet it’s Ms. Abrams who stands out. She takes us through her personal background and describes in detail the influence her parents had on her. We also learn much about the 2016 Georgia Governor’s race, where Ms. Abrams faced off against Brian Kemp. In one of the more startling statistics, we are told that as Georgia Secretary of State, Mr. Kemp purged 1.4 million voters from the Georgia registry.

A true history lesson on voter suppression is provided, with much of the lesson and commentary provided by Ms. Abrams and author Carol Anderson, who wrote the 2018 book, “One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Democracy”. We also hear from others, including 88 year old Andrew Young, one of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement, and a former Mayor of Atlanta and former US Ambassador to the United Nations.

So many aspects of United States elections are discussed, and these include the Reconstruction era after the Civil War, the 19th Amendment, President Lyndon Johnson and Voting Rights Act, Gerrymandering, Voter ID requirements, Poll taxes and literacy tests, and the landmark 2013 case, Shelby County v Holder, resulting in a US Supreme Court decision that has impacted voter access. We see clips of the 30th anniversary of the Walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and it’s clear Civil Rights and Voting Rights are forever bound.

The documentary is important as it connects history with the modern day issues resulting in voter suppression. Ms. Abrams and Ms. Armstrong are vital voices on a topic that should have been laid to rest many years ago; yet as long as the thirst for political power exists, manipulation of the system will be attempted. So, it’s important that every citizen understand how this happens and what to be aware of.

Premieres at Telluride Film Festival September 2, 2020 and in select theaters on September 9, 2020, and on Amazon Prime beginning September 18, 2020

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A&E BIOGRAPHY: THE NINE LIVES OF OZZY OSBOURNE (2020, doc)

September 6, 2020

Airing on A&E September 7, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. My concern going in was that A&E would serve up a heavy dose of modern day Ozzy Osbourne, especially since this profile is directed by Greg Johnston, the producer of the popular reality TV show, “The Osbournes” (2002-05). Instead, the nine lives are divided up for various segments throughout Ozzy’s life (he’s 72 years old now), and seem to be weighted fairly … highlighting warts, family, and achievements.

The first “Life” segment takes Ozzy back to Birmingham, England where he spent his childhood. He and wife Sharon tour his early home – a home that now has an indoor toilet, a luxury not available to young Ozzy. We learn Ozzy had three sisters and two brothers, and that Birmingham was a blue color town lined with factories. Both of Ozzy’s parents were factory workers. Dad took the day shift, Mom the night shift. Ozzy explains that he hated school, and enjoyed his multitude of factory jobs even less. His eyes sparkle as he recalls how first hearing The Beatles inspired him to move towards music.

It’s at this point when we hear from guitarist Tony Iommi, drummer Bill Ward, and bassist Geezer Butler, the founding members, along with Ozzy, of Black Sabbath. This was 4 local lads who were pioneers in heavy metal rock music. Producer Rick Rubin talks about their influence, and how they started as a blues band and evolved into much harder and louder music. They sold many albums and became huge touring the UK and USA. Their second album “Paranoid” included the monster hit “Iron Man”, a true rock anthem. As you might know (or guess), Ozzy had significant issues with booze and drugs, and in 1979, he was fired by the band.

Many rock careers have ended due to addiction, but as the title infers, Ozzy manages to continually land on his feet. His new band, with talented guitarist Randy Rhoads, became huge, and the album “Blizzard of Oz” contained the megahit “Crazy Train”. During this time, Ozzy began his relationship with Sharon, the daughter of his manager. It was also during this era when Ozzy’s reputation as a wild man (or mad man) on stage blossomed … highlighted by shocking behavior at the record company offices and on stage (you’ve likely heard the live bat story). He was also banned from San Antonio for good reason. Disaster struck in 1982, but it was also the year Ozzy and Sharon wed.

Sharon, and Ozzy’s kids Jack and Kelly, are forthcoming in the stories they tell. It’s clear they love Ozzy, despite not always understanding his behavior. Ozzy is often shown watching clips of his live performances, and by the end, we fully comprehend that music and his family are both extraordinarily important to him … and he gives full credit to Sharon for his still being alive (a fact as stunning as Keith Richards still being with us).

The film does go into Ozzy’s retirement from performing, as well as the popular TV show with his family. The vintage clips are fun to watch, and all of the people interviewed (including an honest and often funny Ozzy) have fascinating insight to a remarkable life. It’s likely not many recall his days as the “Prince of Darkness”, but as Kelly says, Ozzy is “the real Iron Man”.

watch the trailer: