May 12, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. With his Oscar winning AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (2006), and follow-ups including WAITING FOR SUPERMAN (2010) and HE NAMED ME MALALA (2015), Davis Guggenheim has proven to be one of the most important and effective documentarians working today. With his latest, he adds a creative touch that blends well with the emotional and personal aspects of this Michael J Fox biography.

Most everyone recognizes Michael J Fox as the popular actor from the BACK TO THE FUTURE franchise and/or his enormously successful TV series, “Family Ties” and “Spin City”. Along the way, there were numerous other films and appearances, and at one point in the 1980’s, he was likely the most recognized actor on the planet thanks to his box office winning movies, highly-rated TV series, countless magazine covers, and regular Talk Show appearances. On top of all that, in 1988, he married the love of his life, actress Tracy Pollan. He truly had it all.

A trembling pinkie signaled a life-changing event for Fox. At age 29, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease … a disease that typically strikes elderly folks, not otherwise healthy young adults in their physical prime years. For years, he was able to hide his symptoms by timing his medication and disguising his left-hand trembles – either by holding an item or keeping the hand stuffed in his pocket.

The creative parts of Guggenheim’s film are that he eschews traditional talking heads – and rest assured, there would be a stream of celebrities willing to talk about Fox – and the use of cool editing by cutting in clips of Fox’s acting roles into the stories as Fox tells them. That’s right … as Michael J Fox tells his own story. He is his own talking head in this film, and it works brilliantly to allow him to show us his sense of humor remains intact, and that he has learned to deal with the obstacles this disease throws at him. We even see his struggle to get toothpaste on his toothbrush. Yet none of this is designed to elicit sympathy for Fox. Oh no, he will have none of that.

We learn his patented perpetual movement dates back to childhood, and are reminded that he was often seen sprinting or moving quickly in his roles … movements he can no longer execute. In fact, his falls are often brutal, sometimes resulting in broken bones and a broken face (pins in his hand and eye socket). Michael J Fox is a 5-time Emmy winner who has been married to Tracy for 35 years. They share four kids and the obstacles created by Parkinson’s. Guggenheim includes a wonderful story regarding a lunch box and Brandon Tartikoff, the wunderkind President of NBC who initially was opposed to Fox being cast in “Family Ties”. The presentation of Fox’s workaholic nature is on full display during the sequence on his simultaneously filming “Family Ties” and BACK TO THE FUTURE.

Michael J Fox telling us his own story makes this so personal. He admits to “waiting for the bus” … a phrase he copped to describe waiting for the dopamine meds to kick in. He is one of the very few to live more than half their life with Parkinson’s Disease, and his sharing the obstacles for all to see is commendable, even if he forbids us from pity.

Opens May 12, 2023


HE NAMED ME MALALA (doc, 2015)

October 7, 2015

malala Greetings again from the darkness. One would be hard-pressed to name anyone currently on the planet who is more deserving of having her story told than Malala Yousafzai. In case you don’t recognize the name, Malala is the teenage girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking out in favor of education for Pakistani girls.

Unlike her namesake in the legendary story told to open the film, this Malala somehow survived the gunshot and has continued her mission of spreading the importance of education throughout the globe. Her efforts resulted in her being named the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2014. This girl is extraordinary and inspiring.

Davis Guggenheim has proven his expertise in the documentary world with excellent work in Waiting for Superman (2010) and his Oscar winner An Inconvenient Truth (2006). Though Malala may be his most fascinating subject to date, this is probably not his best filmmaking. The extensive use of animation distracts from Malala’s story, and also Guggenheim’s attempts to show the teenage girl that exists alongside the global activist are often disjointed. We enjoy seeing her warm and sincere interactions with her brothers and her embarrassment at low grades on school work, but each time one of these sequences begins, the film abruptly shifts to another incident – possibly as a reminder to us that her life is anything but normal.

Some of the film’s highlights include Malala’s speech to the United Nations assembly, the crime scene photographs of the bus on which she and her friends were shot, and those moments when she lets her emotions roam free … she mutters “It’s so hard to get things done in this world”. We feel her pain and find ourselves wanting to stand with Malala.

Much of what we see is from her promotional tour to support her book “I am Malala”, and it’s her words and commitment to the cause that leave such an impression. Guggenheim hints that her father may have pushed her into this life, but this wise-beyond-her-years young woman has more than earned our respect and admiration. She convinces us that the best way to “arm” young people around the world is with books and a pen … the most powerful weapons.  Her courage and commitment cause us to question our actions as 17 year olds. What a truly extraordinary person she is.

To learn more about her mission:

watch the trailer:




October 4, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. The system is broken. I am neither a teacher, Union official or politician … simply a U.S. citizen who sees a real problem with a public education system that seems to adequately serve very few.

After viewing Davis Guggenheim‘s documentary, I find it fascinating to read some of the comments made … especially those made by teachers.  To my eye, the film does not blame any one group for the problems – though lousy (not good) teachers and a misguided union do take some serious criticism. Shouldn’t they? The film makes the point that excellent teachers and principals can definitely make a difference … comparing a great teacher to a work of art.  The specific subject families show caring, involved parents and eager to learn children. Of course, not every family or child fits this definition. But shouldn’t the system at least work for the engaged parents and students?

There is no shortage of blame in this game – politicians, unions, teachers, administrators, parents and rowdy kids. Regardless of the situation, it’s clear that the overall system is flawed, especially in lower income areas. The film asks the question, do neighborhoods drag the school down or is it vice versa? To me, it doesn’t matter. The system should reward the teachers, parents and children who do want to teach and learn.

Regardless of your politics or personal involvement in education, I commend Mr. Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) and Mr. Gates and Ms. Rhee for rocking the boat … for getting the questions asked in a public forum. This movie should inspire much debate and discussion – typically the beginning of real improvement and change. Let’s hope this is the needed start to finding a better system.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you believe debate and discussion can lead to changes for the better.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you believe the current public education system is perfect.