SEX, DRUGS & BICYCLES (2021, doc)

February 25, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness.  For anyone who still believes documentaries are dry and boring, the cure is this latest from Jonathan Blank, a filmmaker who returns to Holland 25 years after his first documentary, SEX, DRUGS & DEMOCRACY (1994). Entertaining and informative is a terrific blend as Mr. Blank uses interviews, statistics, and animation to contrast the Dutch way of life with that of the good ol’ USA.

Tall and happy … the description of Holland’s citizens. And why wouldn’t they be happy?  The Netherlands are known for picturesque windmills, fields of tulips, and of course, legalized drugs and prostitution! Director Blank digs in to find out more, and what he teaches us, in an often humorous manner, is that Holland and USA are quite different in many ways, yet similar in some others. While Americans are known for devoting excessive hours to work and forgoing vacation, the Dutch are paid for 13 months, while actually only working 11. Yet hate crimes and a blight on history are shared traits.

The number of topics touched on here can seem overwhelming, though Blank’s structure of the “Top 10” things to know about Holland definitely helps. We get insight from locals, including a Senator, sexologists, educators, pot farmers, and other citizens. The topics include a national healthcare system, climate change, free speech, social tolerance, and renewable energy vs fossil fuels. There is even an “Animal Rights” political party.

Is Holland a Utopia? A regulated sex worker industry, pot smoking in coffee houses, and double-paid vacation might lead you to think so. However, Blank also talks about the high taxes, a history of slavery, modern day holiday parades that feature blackface, and hate crimes. The progressive social aspects of the culture include a healthcare system that covers gender-reassignment surgery and open acceptance of the LBGTQ community – except where it’s not. It turns out that even in the world’s happiest country, there are closed-minded and nasty people.

In a country of 17 million people where the admitted national pastime is “complaining”, it turns out there is much to admire, yet also an existence of many of the same problems faced elsewhere. Heck, the Dutch use the f-word as frequently as any Quentin Tarantino character, and their dependency on fossil fuels is a known hot topic. Director Blank has succeeded in presenting an entertaining and informative look at an admired culture … warts and all.

The film will air on PBS on February 26, 2021, and also on various streaming platforms.

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MORE THAN MIYAGI: THE PAT MORITA STORY (2021, doc)

February 4, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. Mr. Miyagi not only taught Daniel-san how to stand up for himself in THE KARATE KID (1984), but his “wax on, wax off” entered our  lexicon as his philosophy educated us on how seemingly unrelated pieces of life can fit together. Pat Morita embraced the iconic role of Mr. Miyagi, and also appeared in the three sequels. Filmmaker Kevin Derek is here to tell us the rest of the man’s story.

Using a straightforward and traditional biographical profile structure, Mr. Derek takes us through the life of Pat Morita. We see photographs of him as a young boy who spent many childhood years immobilized – held captive in a body cast after extensive spinal surgery. Once healed, he joined his family in one of the internment camps during WWII.

At age 30, Mr. Morita’s professional goal as a stand-up comedian was to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show sporting one of the more politically incorrect nicknames, “The Hip Nip”. Though he never played ‘Sullivan’, his career turned out just fine thanks to support from Red Foxx. Laura Marr, Lenny Bruce’s mother, became Morita’s agent, and not only did his stand-up career take off, but he also secured his early acting gigs.

It was his “Happy Days” role as Arnold that took him mainstream. Many of the leads from the cast provide memories of working with Morita. Ron Howard doesn’t appear, but Marion Ross, Anson Williams, Danny Most, and Henry Winkler all do. They speak fondly of Morita and call him a “sweet guy.” Although Morita’s first shot at leading his own series (“Mr. T and Tina”) didn’t succeed, he was securing regular acting gigs. Of course, it was being cast as Mr. Miyagi in THE KARATE KID that made him a star.

Fellow ‘KK’ cast members Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, and Martin Kove all tell stories about working with Morita, and more importantly rave about what a generous and kind soul he was … referring to him as a “lovely man.” So you might be wondering, where’s the story? Well it’s Morita’s personal demons that may surprise. He died in 2005 at age 73, but he spent most of his life as an alcoholic – often working while inebriated. His wife Evelyn is interviewed here, but his daughters did not participate.

Much is made of his being born and raised in America, but spending his career bouncing from Japanese to Chinese roles, and masking the inner turmoil. We see clips from his wedding at Elvis Presley’s Las Vegas mansion, and his personal assistant also provides insight into working with him. One of the lowest points of his career is retold by Henry Winkler and Evelyn as they remember his struggles with alcoholism during a televised “Happy Days” reunion. It’s painful to hear.

Kevin Derek also directed THE REAL MIYAGI (2015), which was a profile of Fumio Demura, often recognized as the greatest karate master of a generation. Demura was also Morita’s stunt double in THE KARATE KID. Here, Derek simply allows Morita’s story to unfold – the ups and downs. Only a few actors get to create such an iconic character as Miyagi, and Morita actually played him in four films. His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is shown, and the current day successful spinoff “Kobra Kai” is discussed, yet we are left with a feeling of sadness for a man who accomplished so much, while never achieving his own inner-peace.

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TRIBES ON THE EDGE (2021, doc)

February 1, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. From certain angles, we see the striking resemblance to her grandfather, world renowned researcher, explorer, and oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. Celine Cousteau builds on her family legacy by documenting her journey to Brazil in an effort to provide exposure to the plight of indigenous communities in the rain forests along the Amazon … each tribe in a battle for survival. Ms. Cousteau also explains how this issue is crucial to the world, not just those grasping to the long traditions of jungle life.

We get to watch as her crew assembles and gets taken by boat deep into the Amazon region. In the process, we learn there are approximately 10,000 known indigenous people living in the area she visits, plus an estimated 2000 that have never had “outside” contact. These tribes go back many generations, and Cousteau educates us by taking us along on her mission to these communities. Most striking is the prevalence of malaria and hepatitis within the tribes, when neither disease existed in these communities for hundreds of years. She discusses the conspiracy theory that the government is systematically exterminating these people via “white medicine” in order to gain access to the protected land – land that is brimming with resources, especially oil, minerals, and fish.

The Cousteau team spends much of their time in the Rio Novo section of Vale do Javari which allows us to get a feel for how this tribe lives and the challenges they face. These challenges range from snake bites to lack of medical supplies, and of course the constant threats of political maneuverings. Cousteau also educates us about FUNAI and SESAI, two agencies charged with protecting indigenous people in the demarcated land areas. Neither seems capable of doing so.

A brief segment covers Sydney Possuelo, a Brazilian explorer and tireless activist for the protection of Brazil’s isolated indigenous people. Cousteau’s point is clear – these are the caretakers of the rain forest, and have been for many years. Their existence is threatened, and we should care because of the interconnection to all people. As the Amazon rain forests are destroyed, so is the oxygen and water that sustain us.

Premiers February 2, 2021 on VOD, including iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play and YouTube.

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THE LADY AND THE DALE (2021, docuseries)

January 30, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. Unlike our first glimpse of the shark in JAWS, we don’t have to wait long. A 1974 episode of “The Price is Right” gives us an upfront look at a 3-wheeled car known as The Dale. If you expect the fuel-efficient auto oddity to be the featured attraction of this four-part docuseries from directors Nick Cammilleri and Zackary Drucker, then you are in for quite a ride. While the history of the Dale is chronicled, this is actually the fascinating story of Elizabeth Carmichael, and how she achieved fame and notoriety – the highest highs and the lowest lows of the American Dream.

What makes her story fascinating? For starters, ‘she’ was born Jerry Dean Michael, a con man who claimed to grow up a poor farm boy in Jasonville, Indiana. Per classmates interviewed here, Jerry was neither poor, nor a farmer, but rather a middle class kid whose family ultimately relocated to Detroit, where he later joined the Army. The lies, cons, and fraud come lickety-split … so fast we can barely keep up as we blitz through his scams and his failed marriages, with at least two with kids he never saw. Not once. Lest you think this is over-hype, we also gets bits and pieces from the actual FBI file opened on Jerry Michael.

Always on the move … usually running from the law … Jerry spent time as a vacuum salesman, and then ran a small newspaper, which led to printing counterfeit money. He was often a fugitive and ran through as many names as he did jobs and homes. By 1966, Jerry Michael began presenting himself as Elizabeth Carmichael, and instructing his kids to refer to him as “mother”. Shockingly, his wife, Victoria, went along with this, and became “Aunt Victoria.” It’s an understatement to label this family and life as unconventional.

Candi Michael, one of Jerry’s daughters, is interviewed throughout the four episodes, and provides clear recaps of the many stages of her life. And what a crazy life it was. She explains, matter-of-factly, that her father became her mother, and the kids were trained to immediately stop what they were doing and hop in the car, so the family could instantly escape the latest brush with the law. The family zig-zagged across the country, never in one place very long, but often either in California or the Deep South.

The first episode, “Soldier of Fortune” is loaded with background information, and takes us through Elizabeth’s “self-transition”, as she gave herself hormone shots obtained from veterinarians. We also hear from Susan Stryker, a trans historian, who provides perspective and commentary through all episodes. The episode concludes detailing how, in the midst of a national gas crisis, Elizabeth became enamored with Dale Clifft’s new, fuel-efficient, 3-wheeled vehicle. She opened a business in Los Angeles called 20th Century Motor Car Company, and had visions of dollar signs dancing in her head.

Episode 2, “Caveat Emptor: Buyer Beware” opens with Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If”, and those words go a long way towards describing how Elizabeth Carmichael was approaching life and viewing herself. Of course, her thinking was twisted enough to allow her to become a marketing phenomenon in the automotive industry and she positioned her car company (with no cars to sell, mind you) as competing head to head with the Big 3 American car makers: GM, Chrysler, and Ford. What’s amazing is that Elizabeth was so good at making folks believe, that deposits came flooding in for the ‘option’ to buy a car once they rolled off the production line.

It’s at this point that we begin hearing from some of the engineers and staff that worked for her, and it’s quite obvious that this was a giant shell game. Sure, some of the employees trusted her and were striving to build the car, but being paid on Fridays with stacks of cash should have been a warning sign. This is also the time when local media began to show interest. The key local reporter was Dick Carlson (father of Tucker Carlson) and he’s interviewed for the film, explaining how they sensed the ruse, and kept digging. Things took a turn for Elizabeth on December 31, 1974 when Japanese investors arrived to watch a disastrous test drive of the Dale. After getting close to what Candi called a “normal” life, the family high-tailed it to Texas to escape California regulations (and the law).

“The Guilty Fleeth” for Episode 3 opens with Elizabeth stating, “If I can stay out of jail, I can run for President.” Normally this type of person would be impossible to understand, but we’ve had four years of exposure to something similar, so comprehension comes much easier. We see clips from news reports and hear audio recordings of Elizabeth talking. In California, folks lined up for refunds after the media reports created doubt, and the FBI tracked her down. Not long after, she faced conspiracy charges and was exposed as a man (she had not had the second surgery). This meant serving time in a men’s prison, where she was beaten. The 9 month trial was all over TV and it’s not surprising to learn that Elizabeth acted as her own attorney … before jumping bail and fleeing yet again.

Episode 4, “Celestial Bridge”, covers Elizabeth’s final years in Austin, Texas, running a flower business … right up until an 1989 episode of “Unsolved Mysteries” ended up exposing her again, and having her extradited to California to serve an 18 month jail sentence. This final episode also devotes a good deal of time to the history of transsexuals, including Rene Richards, and comes full circle as we see a bright yellow Dale car on display at the Peterson Automotive Museum. Produced by Mark and Jay Duplass, this docuseries uses stop-action animation, archival footage and photos, and interviews from those who were there to detail the bizarre life of a fascinating person. It also ties in the aspect of a close-knit family in spite of all the obstacles faced for so many years. You may have seen a 3-wheeled car, but you’ve never known a life lived like Jerry/Elizabeth.

The Four-Part Docuseries premieres January 31 on HBO and HBO MAX

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MLK/FBI (2021, doc)

January 14, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. “Free at last.” Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington is partially shown, yet documentarian Sam Pollard’s film proves that MLK was never really free, and still isn’t, even 50 plus years after his death. Based on David J Garrow’s 2015 book, “The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr: From “Solo” to Memphis”, the film looks at FBI documents detailing what can only be described as FBI Director J Edgar Hoover’s crusade to destroy the man some viewed as “the moral leader of our nation”, and others viewed as “the most dangerous Negro in America”.

Most anyone who has a general knowledge of US history in the 1960’s is aware that Hoover was focused on knocking the revered MLK off his pedestal. What the new documents and the film show is that Hoover was not a free-wheeling rogue (at least as far as King was concerned), but rather a tool of the informed administrations he served. Phone taps, surveillance, and undercover agents were all utilized and authorized in the campaign to discredit King’s credibility and expose him as morally compromised. The extra-marital affairs are no revelation, but the letter sent encouraging King to kill himself, along with the audio tape recordings of consensual affairs comprise what former FBI Director James Comey labels, “the darkest part of bureau history”.

Rather than the usual talking heads, the film plays the interviews over the non-stop archival footage and photographs. Those we hear from include diplomat and activist Andrew Young, King speechwriter Clarence B Jones, Yale historian Beverly Gage, retired FBI agent Charles Knox, and author David Garrow. The film goes back to 1956 when King was a Montgomery, Alabama preacher and takes us through his assassination in 1968 Memphis … a 13 year non-violent movement for Civil Rights, Voting Rights, and Poverty.

We learn that Hoover and William Sullivan (Head of FBI Intelligence) first thought that King’s downfall would be his connection to communism via his advisor Stanley Levison. When that failed, they decided to expose King’s non-monogamous activities which they felt would surely cause him to lose followers. The connection between King and the LBJ administration seemed strong right up until it wasn’t – due to King criticizing the money going to the Vietnam War, rather than to solve poverty in this country. Mahalia Jackson’s beautiful singing over the opening credits leads us right into the quandary of whether releasing the secret recordings and documents is a further invasion of privacy, or is it reasonable historical research? Pollard wisely doesn’t play any of the recordings during the film. More FBI documents and recordings are scheduled for release in 2027, and that same question will be pertinent then as well. Surely by now we’ve learned that people can accomplish great things, while themselves being imperfect.

Available January 15, 2020 Video on Demand (VOD)

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EVERYBODY FLIES (2021, doc)

January 14, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. Do you know where cabin air comes from on the commercial planes you fly for vacation or business? Most of us don’t. We simply take the airlines’ word that the air is filtered and safe. Or at least we did before the pandemic motivated us to question air quality everywhere. Former British Airways Captain Tristan Loraine has spent most of two decades researching and compiling information on the cabin air he and so many flight crews … and passengers … breathe on a regular basis.

Loraine is not diving into whether COVID is being spread between folks on a flight, but rather his focus is on TCP (Tricresyl Phosphate), a chemical present in the oil used in jet engines. Without proper filtration (HEPA filters are not sufficient) and maintenance, TCP can leak into cabin air and cause varying degrees of health issues. Catastrophic events are rare and typically identified early, but the real concern is the long-term impact of being exposed to slow leakage causing contaminated air.

The comparison to “Big Tobacco” is made here, and it seems to fit as airlines and manufacturers all say there is nothing to worry about. This stance seems to fly in the face of documented cases of varying illnesses reported by crew members over the years … plus the numerous times where passengers and crews were overtaken by odor and toxic fumes that put them in immediate danger. When the toxicologist points out that a defense of “no evidence” showing danger is meaningless when no tests are run or data collected, the real concern kicks in.

Tristan Loraine and co-director Beth Moran (a former USAF Thunderbirds pilot) present testimony, research, and documentation to justify focused attention on the risk of bleeding air from the engines. They contrast this method with that of Boeing’s 787 which utilizes compressors. What’s shocking is that this has been a known, and overlooked issue since the 1950’s, and the hope is that the film can spur some true action for the safety of those why fly. No narrator is utilized in the film, but the information is systematically presented … it’s not meant to be entertaining, but rather informative. And that it is.

VOD January 15, 2021

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SOME KIND OF HEAVEN (2021, doc)

January 13, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. The Villages of Florida is a massive master-planned retirement community. It’s similar in development to Del Webb’s Sun City, but roughly 5 times the size. We learn that there are 20,000 single folks among the residents of The Villages, and it’s described as “Disneyland for retirees”. Director Lance Oppenheim (his first feature length documentary) peaks behind the façade of paradise.

You come here to live. You don’t come here to die.” One of the residents makes that statement, and there is much to back it up. Golf courses, tennis courts, swimming pools, recreation centers, social activities, concerts, churches, shopping, and it seems there’s always a party to be found. However, rather than explore the seniors who are embracing this pre-fab lifestyle, director Oppenheim focuses on four individuals whose situations wouldn’t be considered success stories.

Anne and Reggie are about to celebrate 47 years of marriage. But is there reason to celebrate? While Anne fine-tunes her pickleball skills, Reggie self-treats his declining mental acuity with drugs and solitary spirituality. Dennis is the party boy. He’s an 81 year old ‘teenager’ living in his van down by The Villages as he searches for a companion with money – one who will open her villa and treat him like the king he views himself as. Barbara is homesick for Boston. She moved to The Villages with her husband, and he died not long after their arrival. Out of money, she’s working full time in the community office – carrying a sullen look that implies depression and loneliness.

Anne looks to a counselor for help, while Reggie fights drug charges by representing himself in a court of law to a judge who doesn’t appreciate rudeness. Dennis is a self-described “handyman” who can’t work venetian blinds, and is smarmy in his pickup methods. Barbara watches video of her wedding on her iPad while eating lunch with her dog, and only shows signs of life when the Parrot Head Margarita man is kind enough to converse with her. While we are getting to know these four, Oppenheim shows off the fabulous community with a golf cart bridge over the freeway, its manicured lawns, swaying palm trees, and engaged citizenry.

The Villages were originally developed by Harold Schwartz, and he makes a brief appearance here thanks to an old video clip. With more than 100,000 residents, is it the sterile environment that masks sadness as presented by Oppenheim, or does it provide an environment for folks to live out their final years by staying active, learning new activities, and socializing? By choosing these four as his focus, there is little doubt the filmmaker is making a statement about his stance, but a better approach would have included insight from “the other side” of the argument. Otherwise, why are there so many “Frogs” – those there till the croak?

Available January 15, 2021 on Video on Demand

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NIGHT STALKER: THE HUNT FOR A SERIAL KILLER (2021, docuseries)

January 13, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. Crime dramas are one of the most popular television series types these days, and Netflix is proving to be exceptional at producing crime docuseries – a short run series (2-8 episodes) based on real life crimes. This latest is the most haunting yet, as it focuses on a 1985 crime spree in California by one of the most notorious serial killers in history.

Tiller Russell (Producer BERNIE, 2011) directs all four episodes, which provides the continuity needed in this type of project. Each of the episodes are titled: Devil in the City of Angels, Anyone Could Be Next, Lock. Your. Doors., and Manhunt. Additionally, director Russell uses the date and number of days for story structure … beginning with March 17, 1985 as “Day 1” (although the police later learned this sick individual had already been at work for months). This was 1985 and Los Angeles was at its most glamorous, while also experiencing a heat wave.

The first three episodes play like a whodunit and detailed police procedural. We meet the two lead detectives: Gil Carrillo, who was the youngest detective in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office, and his partner, Frank Salerno, the legendary detective who was worshipped for tracking down the Hillside Strangler (actually two cousins) in 1977. Both Carrillo and Salerno sit for interviews and recall much of what went in to the case – the detective work, the many mistakes, and the luck (both good and bad). In addition, there are interviews with surviving victims, family members, and journalists to go with the significant archival footage and photographs. Rather than a high-level overview of history, this is an in-depth dive into a tough-to-solve case that had the citizens of an entire state on edge.

As Carrillo and Salerno go back over the case and tell their stories, they are re-living the frustrations of the time. There were so many loose puzzle pieces and, initially, they weren’t sure the pieces were connected. In stark contrast to most serial killer cases, there was no pattern – no consistency in the race, age, or location of the victims. In addition, the crime scenes were only similar in that no fingerprints were discovered. Even the choice of weapons varied. In other words, it was a detective’s worst nightmare.

It’s fascinating to watch as the detectives discuss how footprints were the connective piece that made them realize they were dealing with one very sick individual. The crimes committed – murder, sexual abuse, burglary, etc – were increasingly brutal, and we see many of the crime scene photographs. Even more gut-wrenching are the recollections of surviving victims and family members. It’s mind-boggling how some of these folks survived such vicious attacks.

We also hear from some of the journalists who followed the story at the time, including one who broke the cardinal rule and became part of the story. It’s the humanity of this story that sticks with us, as there is certainly no attempt to glorify this psychopath or his reign of terror. Maps are utilized to help us visualize the haphazard nature of the attacks, and we hear about the multitude of jurisdictions in the area that were not initially sharing details on crimes. It wasn’t until July 20 – Day 125 that the detectives made a specific crime public, which caused the media to create monikers, including “the Walk-in Murderer”, before settling on “Night Stalker”. With no apparent motive or pattern, shock waves of fear flooded the local communities. Episode three recaps the crimes and victims, including one near Detective Carrillo’s home and another in San Francisco. This drives a particularly galling segment featuring San Francisco’s mayor at the time, Diane Feinstein (now a U.S. Senator). Feinstein made a huge gaffe that infuriated the detectives. She released much of their evidence during a TV press conference, possibly jeopardizing the case.

It’s not until the fourth and final episode that we understand how things came together and police were able to close in on the suspect. A tip from Skid Row and a rare break with fingerprints led to the release of a mug shot. With help from the community, the suspect was ultimately captured, and things got even weirder for the trial (3 ½ years later). Richard Ramirez was charged with dozens of crimes with victims ranging from age 6 to 82. In the courtroom, he flashed his palm with a pentagram and yelled, “Hail, Satan”, even while attracting his own following of groupies. Detective Salerno recalls thinking that the Hillside Strangler was a “once in a lifetime case”, and then as things started to come together on the Night Stalker, he thought, “Here we go again.”

The series features haunting, lasting images and a horror that most of us can’t even imagine. Richard Ramirez is the face and embodiment of pure evil, the likes of which we can’t fathom. He created fear and destroyed lives in unspeakable ways before being apprehended and sentenced to death row. Writer Philip Carlo later interviewed Ramirez, and some of those recordings are heard throughout the series. Dedicated Law Enforcement officers like Carrillo and Salerno are remarkable people committed to ensuring most of us can sleep well at night, and that the evil work of psychopaths is stopped as quickly as possible. Even though I vividly remember the time of the Night Stalker, this series will stick with me for a while. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s exceptionally well done.

Premiering January 13, 2021 on Netflix

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DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD (2020, doc)

January 6, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. Hal Ashby’s 1971 cult classic HAROLD AND MAUDE takes a comical look at death, and in the process shows us the importance of living, and the jolt delivered by dying. Documentarian Kirsten Johnson (CAMERAPERSON, 2016) makes this a more personal project by involving her dad in a series of staged deaths for her film. Initially the purpose was to help him begin to deal with an end that could be coming soon, but it evolved into something altogether different.

Dick Johnson is an elderly psychiatrist. He’s a charming and lively man, boasting a nice sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye. His daughter Kristen is “a camera person”, and suggests to him that they make a film about him dying. He’s on board. Kristen then stages various “deaths” for her father. These scenes include getting crushed by a falling air-conditioner, getting hit by a car, taking a horrific fall down stairs, and a construction site mishap. The more we get to know Dick, the more we like him. We learn it’s been 30 years since he had a heart attack, and 7 years since his wife died. She suffered from Alzheimer’s for years before she passed. We learn he’s a Seventh Day Adventist, and loves chocolate fudge cake. My how he loves chocolate cake.

Initially gung-ho for his daughter’s idea, and fully supportive of the situations she puts him in for her art, Dick begins to show signs of forgetfulness and confusion. At times we have our doubts that he fully comprehends what’s happening – not just in the film, but in everyday life. The comical elements shift to wistfulness, as we are present when Dick has to shut down his practice, sell his car, and ultimately box up his belongings and move out of his beloved home. Kristen moves him to her one bedroom New York City apartment, which is right next door to that of the two fathers of her children.

In addition to the staged deaths, we also meet a stuntman who gets involved, and we are on set for the filming of Dick’s “Heaven” which includes chocolate and popcorn, and his “Last Supper” featuring, among others, Bruce Lee, Frida Kahlo, Farrah Fawcett, and Frederick Douglass. There is also a family trip to a beach in Lisbon, and a reunion with Dick’s college girlfriend in California. The strangest bit is the staged funeral, replete with Dick in a coffin, and friends offering tributes. We also celebrate Dick’s 86th birthday, and see many family pictures and home videos.

Leonardo da Vinci is quoted: “As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.”

Watching Dick’s spirit fade along with his memory is anything but happy. His daughter Kristen tries to remain sensitive to his changing state, but the feeling we are left with is anything but happiness towards death. Her film is likely structured much differently than she originally intended, but has so much value for discussion with loved ones and a reminder of just how precious life is for those who appreciate it.

Now showing on Netflix

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THE ART OF POLITICAL MURDER (2020, doc)

December 16, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Very few documentaries can also be labeled political crime thrillers, but that description fits Paul Taylor’s film based on Francisco Goldman’s 2014 book. It’s a blend of history, religion, corruption, and investigative work as it all relates to a brutal murder. Even in these times when trust is broken on so many fronts, we as viewers are left wondering how something like this could happen.

The Guatemalan Civil War spanned 1960 through 1996, and had the right wing military facing off against leftist rebels supported by the indigenous Mayans. More than 200,000 civilians were killed, and the people’s faith in their government was destroyed. But this isn’t the story of the war. Bishop Juan Gerardi publicly condemned the government and military for war crimes and atrocities in his deeply researched 1996 REMHI (Recovery of Historical Memory Project) report. Two days later, 78 year old Bishop Gerardi was murdered. Savagely murdered. Bludgeoned in the head and face with a concrete slab, outside his parish home.

The bulk of the film is dedicated to what happened after the April 26, 1998 murder: a botched crime scene, numerous theories, citizen protests, and a high profile trial. It’s really the stories behind the story. The Bishop was an outspoken activist for the Mayan people and he was beloved by many. However, the exploration of the police investigation left many wondering what kind of government would issue a state-sponsored hit on a religious leader of the people.

We hear from the key witness and see clips of the prosecutors. There are interviews with a journalist and activists, and we learn of some of the theories of who killed the Bishop and why. These theories included: organized crime, drug traffickers, church thieves, and it was even proposed that it was a crime of passion. Not only does the film chronicle the police investigation, but we are also privy to the more fascinating investigation into the investigation. It’s an exploration of the crime and its aftermath – including governmental and military corruption, and more attempted violence. The clips from the courtroom scenes are stunning, and although those at the highest level may never answer for what happened, the dedication of Bishop Gerardi is still remembered.

This HBO Documentary is premiering December 16, 2020

watch the trailer