Movies »The Queen of Versailles

qvby Lauren Greenfield (2012)

The Queen of Versailles, dispute it’s reality tv appearance, is a thoughtful documentary that doesn’t get in its own way. It’s a perfect portrait in many ways of what is wrong in America.

Don Siegel, who could be a poster boy for the greed of the top 1% (he recently made headlines threatening his employees to vote for Romney and suing the film maker of this documentary for defamation) begins the film building the biggest single family home in America with his trophy wife Jackie.

She elicits much more sympathy than her husband but if he symbolizes corporate greed, she is a symbol the insatiable consumerism that effects most Americans rich or poor.

Part of the films success was luck. Had filmmaker Greenfield not been there when the economy collapsed and the Siegels lost nearly everything the story would not have been as fascited and fascinating but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it’s also a very well made film.

Many people like me are discovering this gem on netflix where topical docs abound but very few will be as interesting or thought provoking.


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Posted on February 4, 2013

Movies »Into the Abyss

directed by Werner Herzog (2011)

Into the Abyss takes an unsentimental (is Herzog ever any other way?) look at a particularly senseless murder and subsequent death sentence.

In most hands the subject and people could be treated with pointed, tear jerking emotions, but with Herzog’s frank discussions (at one point he tells a murderer he has no intention of liking him) the people involve are allowed to be more dimensional.

He asks questions and focuses on details other film makers would ignore.

The result is more than a knee jerk reaction to crime, poverty and the death penalty. It provokes you to actually think about it.

Herzog is an incredible documentarian who usually takes on nature more than human drama. In a way, this is a quieter film from him that lacks the interesting scenery of his more familiar works but it’s certainly not one to be missed.

It’s available on Netflix instant and beats an Investigative Reports any day.

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Posted on May 24, 2012

Movies »Unzipped

directed by Douglas Keeve (1995)

I adore the documentary Unzipped. I have probably seen it a dozen times and all those times, seen it alone. Of all the passions and tastes Jim and I share, movies about the fashion industry just isn’t one of them so they’ve become a private pleasure.

With this Isaac Mizrahi ode to high fashion being on Netflix instant, I couldn’t help but indulge in another viewing.

Before Project Runway, before any of the many fashion docs, there was this movie. Its inside look at the creative process was truly inspiring and amazing to me as a young woman and still fills me with joy to watch. Mizrahi is charming, the show is excellent (looks as fresh today as then), the cinematography is beautiful and even the score is perfection.

I feel like this movie is almost forgotten and buried behind The September Issue and realty tv but any lover of fashion should see it right away. It’s divine.

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Posted on May 18, 2012

Movies »Bill Cunningham New York

directed by Richard Press (2010)

Bill Cunningham New York is not a “fashion” movie, per se, but a loving portrait of a man with integrity, individualism and passion.

As one of the original street style photographers – first for Details, then WWD, then the Times, he brought real women and the runway closer together, giving each equal spotlight with his camera.

Still using real (non-digital) film, riding a bike everywhere, refusing to be beholden to anyone, and living in a tiny, cluttered studio – the often cut throat, vain and bitchy world of high fashion has not changed him in the past several decades.

He’s a visual historian of New York and as a person, a true inspiration.

He shows the beauty of a life lived simply, with kindness and passion.

Available on netflix instant.

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Posted on January 30, 2012

Movies »The Wild And Wonderful Whites of West Virginia

Directed by Julien Nitzberg (2009)

I started watching The Wild And Wonderful Whites of West Virginia only to turn it off when I started to feel like I was watching one of those A&E train wreck shows.

Then, the next day, I resumed play because it’s like one of those train wrecks you can’t help but look at.

The White family, made infamous in song and local lore by being generally nuts – dealing drugs, raising hell and shooting each other, make for an interesting hour (and might make you afraid to visit West Virginia).

One might call this to exploitative – the age old debate that comes with documentary, especially when the subjects are people whose lives are extreme and divisive and the Whites are surely both. But the Whites seem happy to be exposed raw and relish in their outlaw lifestyle.

Let’s face it, as a person about to write up two fancy French macaroon bakeries in a week, my life could not be more different than the women depicted, seen snorting coke in the hospital room after just giving birth. Yet, without being sentimental there are moments when you have sympathy for these outlaw misfits.

It’s not a wholly masterfully crafted portrait, one wonders what this would have been in the hands of someone like the Maysles, but it’s far more balanced than I expected from the producers of Jackass and the filmmakers don’t get in their own way.

On netflix instant.

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Posted on October 10, 2011

Movies »Exit Through the Gift Shop

directed by Banksy (2010)

Even though I trusted all the rave reviews from the press and friends, I wasn’t sure that Exit Through the Gift Shop would capture my interest as I am not a particular street art fanatic.

However, to my surprise, I was drawn into the film which is clever, humorous, and thought provoking and I walked away with a new found admiration for artist and filmmaker, Banksy.

A thoughtful artist so disinterested in the spotlight that he conducts his interviews in “crime witness” fashion – darkened silhouette and altered voice, Banksy is a foil to Thierry Guetta, a French obsessive who loves attention and doesn’t quite seem to “get” even his own art.

The film begins with Guetta shadowing the biggest names in street art but ends with him becoming the rather comical focus as he stumbles into art superstardom Himself (by basically ripping off the style of all the artists he’s met but ignoring the meaning).

There’s a theory going around that the whole thing is a hoax, that Guetta is Banksy’s own creation. While if anyone seems clever enough to pull off such a hoax it would probably be him, Guetta seems far human and real (honestly no one could fake his insane film within the film Life Remote Control). Banksy and Fairey genuinely seems regretful for their role in creating Mr. Brainwash.

Either way, this is a great watch and you can see on Netflix instant.

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Posted on August 29, 2011

TV Shows »House Hunters International


House Hunters International has quickly become an obsession and I wouldn’t be totally shocked if it were to lead us to living abroad for a year or two.

Of the episodes we have seen, Normandy (the Witch’s House!!!) and Denmark have been the most breathtaking.

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Posted on August 25, 2011

Movies »The Endless Summer

directed by Bruce Brown (1966)

During this heatwave, nothing has been better to have playing in the background than the 1960’s surfer documentary, The Endless Summer.

The narration is dated and has the innocence and tone of a Disney movie, but in that way it’s quite charming.

Filmmaker Bruce Brown follows two friendly, handsome surfers, Mike Hynson and Robert August as they travel the globe in search of perfect waves. In one quite amazing scene, they teach local African villagers how to surf.

It’s goofy and far from modern, but Endless Summer does a great job of romantisicing the nomadic, amiable, and free life of a surfer.

The cinematography, of which Roger Ebert said “almost makes you wonder if Hollywood hasn’t been trying too hard” is often beautiful and it’s always a fun era to see footage of.

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Posted on July 24, 2011

Movies »Microcosmos

directed by Jacques Perrin (1996)

I tend to gravitate to movies and books that explore the darker side of life, but every once and a while I just want to relax with something that makes the world seem wonderful and awe inspiring. The French documentary MicroCosmos is such a film.

I remember the movie making quite a splash with it’s amazing technology that manages to capture the most intimate daily moments of insects and thier surroundings. We follow a bee as it polluantes, we are up close and personal with mating snails, we see a drop of rain bounce a lady bug from her leaf and we are mesmerized by it all.

It makes one see the world in a way we’ve never seen it before. We thought it was great that it was shot in what Jim called “just some French countryside” and not some totally exotic local, making the somewhat familiar magical.

The film is mostly set to music,  bookended with minimal narration. Funnily, and probably acurrately, the French felt this would be a tough sell with Americans and tried to tie it to Jurassic Park to gain an audience.

Like most things I watch these days, this is available streaming on netflix and looks amazing in HD.

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Posted on June 21, 2011

Movies »The Great Happiness Space

directed by Jake Clennell (2006)

The Great Happiness Space (which I came across on Netflix instant) uncovers the odd, excessive, depressing world of Host Boys in Osaka, Japan. Basically young call boys/escorts for young wealthy women, they lure passersby into exclusive clubs, offering much needed flirty attention while racking up huge champagne bills.

Most of the young men interviewed make more than $10,000 a month, with Issei, the charming but admittedly messed up 22 owner of Club Rakkyo taking in more than $50,000. Both the hosts and their clients refer to it as being “financially worshipped”.

The film unfolds different aspects of the business revealing more and more complexities as it goes on. After meeting the ultra groomed Host Boys, we meet the women who pay exorbitant amounts of money to experience faux relationships with them. Many claim to genuinely love Issei and hope for the day they can become his girlfriend out of the clubs.

It’s sad, but at the same time they seem happy with the arrangement and it makes you wonder: if a pair of shoes can cost a fortune, is it so wrong that the one thing that most people crave the most: companionship, affection, love shouldn’t also be something worth spending for if you so please?

But, then the film takes a turn again when we learn that most of the women who come to the clubs can only afford to do so because they themselves are call girls and prostitutes, making for a strange self perpetuating cycle of manufactured love. It’s especially sad to learn that some women are only struggling through the horrors of prostitution solely in order to come to the host clubs and experience fleeting, champagne filled moments of happiness. The underlying severe loneliness effects the boys too who reveal themselves to be just as in need of real human compassion but are stuck in the empty job of pretending to love women for money.

Filmmaker Jake Clennell paints a fascinating portrait of this world in a short time without ever injecting himself or his own judgement. Too often new documentarians are more interested in their own journeys than their subjects. A cinematographer mainly, Clennell has a gift for documentaries and should make more!


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Posted on March 9, 2011

TV Shows »An Idiot Abroad

On The Science Channel


I could have recommended An Idiot Abroad without seeing a single frame because as any of you that have listened to the Ricky Gervais Show podcast know, the idea of Karl Pilkington (aka K. Dilkington) traveling under the often harshest conditions across the globe is absolutely ingenious.

I actually read about this project a while back, but assumed when it aired in the US, it would have some HBO backed fan fair. Instead, it’s buried in the Science Channel, but oh so worth DVR-ing (also limited episodes available on demand).

For those of you unaware of the moronic and uniquely strange mind of Karl, you can expect such insightful gems as comparing Israel to Pac Man in that every time you go down an alley expecting it to be quiet something comes at you.

It’s basically just plain amazing and for me to explain why would take away from your experience. Watch this!!

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Posted on February 26, 2011

TV Shows »Signe Chanel

Aired on Sundance

The fashion world is often viewed as a most glamorous one and there is certainly no shortage of glamour in the behind the scenes documentary, Signe Chanel: the Chanel head quarters in Paris house bright, incredible work spaces, the clothes themselves are almost inexplicably gorgeous (a wedding dress that will in particular make you gasp), and the mastermind himself Karl Lagerfeld is bejewelled and sunglassed at the height of impeccable style. However, it’s the true labor, care and dedicated hard work that goes into this collection (a memorably exquisite Fall 2004 collection) that film maker Loic Prigent, who also made the Day Before series I previously recommended, is most intrigued by. The seamstresses are every bit as important as Karl at the house of Chanel and to watch them interpret his free form, beautiful sketches into three dimensional pieces of couturier art is absolutely fascinating.

One of the most interesting characters revealed in the show is Madame Pouzieux , an elderly farmer who also creates the signature Chanel braids on her remote farm on a loom she invented herself over forty years ago. A local shoe maker with his made to order cobble shop and a beading house where women tirelessly bead one garment for days and nights with little rest are also given rare center stage in an industry obsessed with the rich, famous and showy. The humble awe he treats these tailors, seamstresses, shoe makers, beaders and braiders makes for a most intimate and slightly heart stopping look at fashion. It’s certainly one of the most interesting things I have seen on TV recently and a must for fashion fanatics – though just as recommended to those that turn their nose at fashion as art (isn’t it curious that those people often have no problem appreciating other art forms?).

Shot simply and beautifully on video, this feels intimate and you become involved in the arduous process of making a collection. It aired on Sundance during NY fashion week but is unfortunately not listed to be airing again soon but you can watch via youtube or on DVD from Amazon UK if you have a region 2 player. It’d worth seeking out this joyous ode to haute couture.

Click here for the rest of Signe Chanel

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Posted on October 5, 2010

TV Shows »The Day Before

airing on Sundance

When I am away Jim eats bad Chinese take out, when Jim’s not around, I watch documentaries about fashion. Lucky for me, Sundance has been airing (and has available on demand) their behind the scenes series, The Day Before all this week in honor of New York Fashion Week. It’s an interesting if cursory look at the hectic day leading up to major designer’s runway shows. It reveals what anyone who has worked in the industry or knows people who do knows: that it takes a team of many to make a collection, that that team is like a family (truly the most glamorous part of a high stress fashion job – not the celebrities in my opinion), that it’s a lot of hard work and there are always upheavals at the last minute and not enough time to do everything with your sanity in tact. Perfectionist Narciso Rodriguez highlights this hair pulling reality the most. Other designers featured are Diane Von Furstenberg, Donatella Versace, Alexander Wang, Peter Copping for Nina Ricci, and Jeremy Scott.

Click here for the rest of The Day Before

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Posted on September 12, 2010

TV Shows »Foodography

On the Cooking Channel

There are some guys I just kind of like and am glad to see working. I like that Nathan Fillion got a job in Castle, (even if it’s unbearable), I love that the beeper king, Dean Winters is excellent in the Allstate commercials he took over from America’s real first black president, and I think it’s nice to see Mo Rocca hosting a food information show. He lends a bit of un-obnoxious humor to the often obnoxious genre in the new (pretty sweet) Cooking Channel’s Food(ography).

The show goes along with the channel’s slightly new take on food television. Instead of Al Roker or Marc Summers taking us to the Skittles factory for the thousandth time (though I still do kind of love seeing stuff being made in factories), Foodography has an approach that is slightly more in line with the foodie culture of today. Interesting and hip places are visited and there’s at least some actual research and information about the history of the subjects. While it still sometimes suffers from cheesy pun intended writing, it’s pleasurable lite watching that has even added a few go to places on my list.

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Posted on August 22, 2010

Movies »F for Fake

directed by Orson Welles (1974)

Orson Welles‘ (mostly) documentary film, F for Fake, is a kinetic, meandering, stimulating experiment in story telling that would be a great watch for anyone interested in the art of editing and inventive movie making. While it doesn’t hit one hundred percent of the time and can take a little bit for the viewer to get into the pace and tone of it all, it’s very interesting.. or as Jim put it more succinctly and probably better “it’s fun to watch a master just fuck around”.

The story Welles’ is fucking around with here is one of fraud. Elmyr De Hory is the world’s greatest art forger. We see him create Matisses and Picassos on camera (which he burns) and his work has fooled the greatest “experts” and museums in the world. Clifford Irving is the man fascinated with the man and writing a biography of his exploits.. but it seems Irving has a few of his own fakeries going on. Welles touches on his own greatest fraud/work of art the radio program War of the Worlds, a story of Pablo Picasso and a beautiful lady (with an even more beautiful wardrobe that you can see in the stills below/after the jump) and ultimately the innate element of lying whenever anyone creates something.

As Welles’ last film, it was sadly a total failure upon its release in the US. Its avant garde style was largely frowned upon but is now considered highly influential. Criterion released the film a few years back and it’s currently available on netflix instant.

Click here for the rest of F for Fake

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Posted on August 8, 2010

TV Shows »In the Womb

from National Geographic

This National Geographic documentary, In the Womb, about the world of the fetus from egg and sperm, to weird shrimp creature to tiny human being is, of course, particularly interesting to me now, as I am over halfway to giving birth but even non preggers will find the new technology and science totally fascinating and you’ve never seen it like this before.

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Posted on June 20, 2010

TV Shows »Baby Human

Geniuses in Diapers

I’m not sure how interesting Baby Human would be to those not expecting or with a young child, but I am finding this sing songy educational documentary about the stages of development in babies fascinating and cute. Chapters are broken into breakthrough stages: walking, thinking, talking and illustrate with scientific experiments and lots and lots of smiling adorable babies. Which, of course, aside from the research part, are the main reason to watch.

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Posted on May 9, 2010