Category: TV


210407_netflix_robbery_docuseries

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Where are they now?

Most true crime TV tends toward the lurid, the sensational, the gory, the depraved.  So Netflix’s new documentary series, This is a Robbery, comes as a breath of fresh air to the genre.  Their cold case?  A 1991 unsolved art heist at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

You may be familiar with the case—the night after St. Patrick’s Day, men wearing police uniforms hustled their way into one of Boston’s most beautiful museums and hustled their way out again 81 minutes later with thirteen irreplaceable (and uninsured) works of art, including Rembrandt’s only seascape, also a Vermeer, a Manet, five Degat works, and two other Rembrandts, worth a total estimated value of $500,000,000.  Yes, five hundred million.  The Gardner Museum made the gutsy decision to continue displaying the emptied frames in the gallery, where they still hang, 30 years later.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The first ten minutes of the new CNN documentary film Three Identical Strangers is intriguing enough to merit a major motion picture adaptation.  The film re-tells the story of an adopted teenager who steps into the life of someone else on his first day at community college, only to find that he had an unknown identical twin brother who attended the school the prior year.  Director Tim Wardle‘s introduction and interview with Robert Shafran, now 57, and the best friend who in 1981 knew the newfound twin brother, Eddy Galland, and was shocked to meet Robert on campus, is the kind of exciting filmmaking that illustrates why there are fans of documentaries.

But that was only the first unlikely collision of events.  Only days later when the story was published in New York newspapers, another teen, David Kellman, born on the same day, was reading the story, and his mother showed him the photographs of the twins that looked identical to him.  Identical triplets, adopted out of the same agency, which had separated the triplets at birth instead of trying to place them into a single home.

The story was reported everywhere back in 1980, on shows like Donahue, and the triplets would go on to appear in a scene with Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985.  Only the collective forgetfulness of a country of the men’s 15 minutes of fame allowed the story to fade away over the decades.  But there was more to the story, and Wardle would put together a contemporary writer’s research and remnants of the past, busting open a psychological study that breached any sensible person’s ethics.  The triplets weren’t merely studied from afar, their families were specifically targeted for placement, and their parents conned into letting the researchers into their homes each year for subsequent testing.  And yet there’s still more to the story, as Wardle interviews other relatives, an investigative reporter, and two former researchers involved in the study.  It’s a creepy look into the kind of science carried on by Nazi Germany during World War II and banned by the medical profession since, all with an eye toward digging into the battle between nature vs nurture in determining who each individual is in life and what they become.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In the realm of cool it’s really hard not to begin with something like Bruce Brown’s 1966 surfing documentary The Endless Summer.  Whether or not you’ve ever tried to surf or even been to the beach, the carefree attitude of these 1960s surfers is infectious.  Brown’s follow-up in 1994, The Endless Summer II, showed us what changed–and what hadn’t changed–in the intervening 30 years.  A documentary airing the rest of this year on Starz provides another perspective on catching waves.  It’s Shorebreak: The Clark Little Story, a highly-praised, multiple film festival pick in 2016 and 2017.

Clark “Turbo” Little is “the award-winning photographer with the largest social media following in the world,” who carved his own niche in the coastal photography market.  While other photographers were clogging beaches trying to get the best shot of the most dangerous waves and those attempting to surf them, Little started taking photographs of a world nobody else was paying any attention to: the shorebreak–that zone where the waves hammer the beach, and the photographer takes repeated poundings to get his perfect image.  In the documentary we watch director Peter King film Little as he films the unique natural formations that occur inside the waves as they slam him into the surf.  The result is a wealth of breathtaking photos that have been featured at international museums including the Smithsonian Institution, in advertisements, in outdoor magazines, and even in a memorable National Geographic Magazine spread.  Now a full-time career for Little, his clients include Apple, Nike, Nikon, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, Toyota, Anheuser Busch, Starbucks, Whole Foods, and more.  Little has filmed both stills and video on the North Shore of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Big Island, California, Japan, and French Polynesia, and published two books, The Shorebreak Art of Clark Little and Shorebreak

Shorebreak: The Clark Little Story, reveals Little’s pathway to creating his photography subject of choice.  It’s a similar kind of mellow ride as found in Bruce Brown’s surfing documentaries–the kind of movie to meditate to or focus in closely with the benefit of quality HD and Little’s beautiful imagery.  Little’s work can cause some sore muscles or even a broken neck if not done properly, but his work doesn’t have that tense risk factor of the big surf crowd.  Yet he seems to be embraced by the community, walking the walk and talking that very cool vocabulary familiar to the beach community.  Little shoots much of his work from nearby his home in Haleiwa, Hawaii.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

From Hong Kong to the U.S. and Australia to Uganda, Australian director Serge Ou and writer Grady Hendrix track the scope of the Hong Kong kung fu movie industry and its pop culture influence on the world in the documentary Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks, now streaming this month on Netflix.  Splicing interviews with kung fu legends of the past with new discussions with martial artists and actors influenced by them, Ou offers up a surprisingly rich look at how and why kung fu movies gained an international following that continues to this day via Jackie Chan comedies, the Matrix movies (with a sequel due in theaters next year), and new television series like Wu Assassins and Iron Fist. 

Beneath what is in essence an overview of the genre is a smart mixture of social and cultural commentary on a global phenomenon centered on an artform mixing athleticism, dance, and grace.  Kung fu made its way to American audiences with Tom Laughlin in Billy Jack, and into millions of homes via the Kung Fu series.  This was paralleled by Bruce Lee movies and lesser films (they call them Bruce-sploitation) from China and U.S. studios, direct-to-video crotch-kicking and “squirrel-grabbing” action on VHS tapes in video stores, heroines leading the way as a sub-genre, eventually moving to black and inner city audiences embracing the culture, starting with martial artist and actor Jim Kelly (who co-starred with Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon), re-emerging later as an influence on hip hop music.  The genre got even bigger boosts with Jackie Chan heavy-stunt comedies, followed by The Matrix and the Academy Awards arrival of the genre with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  Chinese co-productions with other nations, and actors of Chinese background in the mainstream outside of Asia would eventually come along.

Viewers meet (or revisit) early kung fu icons Cheng Pei-Pei and Sammo Hung in new interviews, along with Billy Banks, who would turn the genre into his own fortune via the creation of the Tae Bo workout, early American female kung fu star Cynthia Rothrock, martial artist Richard Norton, plus from the 21st century shows, Iron Fist actor Jessica Henwick, Wu Assassins actor JuJu Chan, Doctor Strange actor Scott Adkins, and Marvel stuntwoman and choreographer Amy Johnston, among others.  It’s all interspersed with great action sequences and other clips from more than 100 films.  A theme underscoring much of kung fu movie history is a distinct lack of safety standards, with more than one participant in the documentary stressing that Hong Kong kung fu movies couldn’t be made anywhere else for that reason.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Following up on The Toys That Made Us (previously reviewed here at borg), Netflix’s surprise hit documentary series leaning on viewers’ nostalgia with a look behind select high-profile toy lines of the past, last December the streaming provider added a new series based on the same formula, The Movies That Made Us.  The series looked at four movies in four hour-long episodes, including the modern Christmas staples, Home Alone and Die Hard.  This December, Netflix is adding two new surveys of holiday movies to the mix: Jon Favreau’s Elf (2003) and Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).  Check out a preview below.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Following up on The Toys That Made Us (previously reviewed here at borg), Netflix’s surprise hit documentary series leaning on viewers’ nostalgia with a look behind toys of the past, in 2019 the streaming service added a new series based on the same formula, The Movies That Made Us.  The series took a new look at four movies in four hour-long episodes in its first season, including Die Hard, Ghostbusters, Home Alone, and Dirty Dancing, followed by two holiday episodes featuring Elf and A Nightmare Before Christmas.  The Movies That Made Us isn’t really about the movies and their impact so much as what strange stories lie behind how the movies were created, from idea to release, including production foibles and hurdles.  The show is trying to appeal to a broad spectrum of viewers, and it’s done it again with four new installments for its second season, featuring Back to the Future, Pretty Woman, Jurassic Park, and Forrest GumpAnd new episodes are on their way featuring Aliens, Coming to America, and RoboCop, and October staples A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th,and Halloween.

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We watched them get the band back together the first time with Muppet Guys Talking, a fun documentary we discussed two years ago here at borg.  Now not even sheltering at home will hold back the fun-loving Muppet Guys, who are returning once again to share some more about Muppet creator Jim Henson, and the incredible creative process and their experience as Muppet performers, all while earning some money for front-line COVID-19 workers.  Part in honor of Jim Henson, who passed away 30 years ago, and part reason to get some of our favorite people back together virtually, it’s all happening this Saturday, and everyone is invited.

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One of the best subjects I have discussed with a celebrity was asking Peter Mayhew–the actor known for playing Chewbacca from Star Wars–to talk about working with the Muppets when he guest-starred on The Muppet Show with Mark Hamill as Luke and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO in January 1980.  Mayhew beamed as the memories flooded back and he described two incredible worlds he was immersed in–interacting with these great furry characters from television just as if they were real people, and looking down below them to see an entire separate world of creators sprawled across each other with their hands working in every direction like a giant work of magic.  Frank Oz, the actor and voice of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi, and the creator and actor behind Sesame Street and The Muppet Show’s Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Cookie Monster, Grover, Animal, and many more, has created a new documentary with five of the original Muppet performers to recount the creation of their timeless fantasy world.

Originally premiering at last year’s South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched, will be available for fans everywhere for the first time in March.  Emmy-winning performer Frank Oz, who also was co-director of The Dark Crystal and director of movies from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to HouseSitter, brings together Emmy-winner Jerry Nelson, creator and performer of Count von Count, Snuffleupagus, Lew Zealand, Statler, Gobo Fraggle, and the original Saturday Night Live character Scred; Emmy-winner Dave Goelz, creator and performer of The Great Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Waldorf/Robert Marley, and Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal; Emmy-winner Fran Brill, creator and performer of Prairie Dawn, Zoe, Little Bird, Betty Lou, and The Land of Gorch’s Vazh (and recurring Law and Order actress); and Bill Barretta, BTVA Award-winning creator and performer of Pepe the King Prawn, Johnny Fiama, Bobo the Bear, and Big Mean Carl.

Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson, the late Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and the late Richard Hunt, with Gonzo, Floyd, Kermit, Fozzie, and Scooter.

The performers of so many beloved characters discuss their individual approaches to creating memorable characters and the impact Jim Henson had on their lives and work.  This is all a great tie-in to the 35th anniversary return of The Dark Crystal to theaters next month (check out our preview here and the Fathom Events website here for more information on that event).  For a taste of some of the fun to be had in Muppet Guys Talking, check out the website for the show, MuppetGuysTalking.com, and these quick previews:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’ve been watching Michael Apted’s ground-breaking Up Series from its first installments, you know each new chapter in the real-life time travel journey makes the viewer feel like he or she has also reached some kind of achievement with the arrival of the new episode.  But the series of documentaries is not for the faint-hearted, filled with gut-wrenching views into participants’ lives, participants who feel like family after watching them over 56 years since their first appearance.  So compelling and personal is Apted’s look at this select group of fourteen English boys and girls turned men and women, revisiting them every seven years of their lives since 1964, the documentary series is practically an interactive experience.  With Apted passing away since the UK premiere last year, and the U.S. arrival of the latest installment–the eagerly awaited 63 Up arriving on BritBox via Amazon Prime this weekend–the question is whether this ninth installment is the last.  Key members of the crew since 28 Up have expressed an interest in continuing the series in 2027, but until then expect this to be a bittersweet end for the series, which Roger Ebert called the noblest project in cinema history and among the ten best films ever made.

At last Apted addresses the thesis of the show to each participant, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man,” and asks whether they agree after decades participating in this unique social experiment.  Apted was a researcher when working on director Paul Almond’s Seven Up! in 1964.  Seven years later the well-known director of Gorillas in the Mist, The World is Not Enough, Coal Miner’s Daughter and Gorky Park, was just out of university, and at 22 he revisited the original Seven Up! project.  He would go on to direct the subsequent eight episodes over 56 years.  The idea was to get a glimpse of England in the future year 2000 when these kids, the future leaders of England, were only seven years old.  It is difficult to surpass the jolts and surprises of 42 Up, but 63 Up holds its own, although sadly viewers will say goodbye to one participant who has died, another is seriously ill, and another decided not to participate.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Over the past decade I have reviewed most of the books from publisher Running Press chronicling Turner Classic Movies’ in-depth research into the best of classic and genre films.  Yesterday I looked at the 2016 book TCM’s The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter, by film historian Jeremy Arnold.  Today I’m reviewing and previewing a new volume in what has become a film library for the film historian.  It’s the second volume pulled from the 2001-2020 TCM series The Essentials, TCM’s The Essentials: 52 More Must-See Movies and Why They Matter, a very different look at film than the first volume, with some interesting features–and great movies.  We have a peek inside the book for borg readers below.

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