Dick Johnson is Dead, What a Way to Go!

Kirsten Johnson (writer and director AND daughter of Dickey J) originally made a splash with a doc called Cameraperson in 2016. I won’t pretend that I had ever heard of her before her recent and profound, “Dick Johnson is Dead”.

In Dick Johnson is Dead, Johnson walks her dad figuratively speaking through his Seventh Day Adventist beliefs about death and the afterlife as he meanders further into old age and dementia. While this may sound bleak, Kirsten makes it fun, by allowing her Dad to experience his hope for Heaven and biggest wishes.

This should definitely be in the running for the Oscar doc this year for three simple reasons: universal thematically, moving and unique.

Wildly inventive, this movie will make you seek out your own family with fresh eyes and patience. I only wish I had seen it Friday night, alas, most often, we’re lucky enough to live another day and improve.

And while I had thought it quite morbid, seeing Dick Johnson experience his funeral live (literally), I now understand my Grandma wanting to read her eulogy before the lights go out.

Jimmy’s Middle Name Should be Joy: Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President

Jimmy Carter is one of those rare individuals who has truly lived a life of integrity. And I’m so glad Bill Flanagan helped write the documentary Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President. Additionally, I hope this is just the start of bigger projects for director Mary Wharton, though she’s no novice, having won a Grammy in 2004 for best long form video for the song Legend.

What struck me about the doc within the first ten minutes was how much Jimmy Carter (and wife Rosalynn) smile. Genuine smiles from grateful, earnest people. Boy is that missing in our world right now. If we have to wear masks until Christmas, PLEASE, let’s make them transparent. We need to see people smile.

The doc details Jimmy’s humble upbringing (probably the antithesis and main curse of our most angry US clientele these days, meaning spoiled folks raised in luxury who now subconsciously suffer due to never having any real hardship, aka, ‘so let’s create one’) and his listening to radio music and his Sunday worship gospel songs.

We are what we watch and listen to and the point is hit home by countless musicians within the doc, too many to mention. The largest screen time goes to Willy Nelson, Gregg Allman, Larry Gatlin, Nile Rodgers and Bono.

While I loved the entire documentary, my highlights were:
Seeing Dizzy Gillespie have such a blast making Jimmy ‘sing’ Salt Peanuts, and Jimmy Carter’s Inaugural Gala where Aretha in all her beauty sang “God Bless America” and Paul Simon sang “American Tune”. This should be mandatory viewing for anyone angry these days. Get back to the music, y’all!

Robin’s Wish: A gorgeous documentary tribute (?)

Taken on the surface, Robin’s Wish is a loving tribute of Robin Williams by his wife, friends, neighbors and doctors directed and written by Tyler Norwood with the help of Scott Fitzloff, both worked together previously on another doc called The United States of Detroit, and both are specialists in cinematography.

And the cinematography in Robin’s Wish is of particular note, not just the gorgeous geographic pans of San Francisco, but even in the nuanced eye for light and water reflections on a ceiling, the occasional shading of the screen to denote Robin’s diminishing mental health.

His friends tearful last moment stories are beautiful, as is his widow’s nascent romance re-telling…here’s where my ugly conspiracy theory skepticism comes in:

If he was getting more ill and more paranoid for months all the while being tested, it’s hard for me to believe that a wealthy man, with I assume, state of the art doctors that didn’t know his brain was turning to Swiss cheese from Lewy Body’s Disease. And if they didn’t see it, where’s the oops? And what spouse doesn’t peek in to check on their ailing partner first thing instead of to just assume he’s sleeping before you leave the house for the morning.

I guess if the doc contained an all encompassing take (none of his children took part, nor any celebrities, though Ben Stiller was certainly dangled out there in many scenes), I’d be less suspicious. Give it a look for a mere 6.99 on Bezo’s Monster and let me know what you think.

Creem: America’s Only Rock N Roll Magazine

I’d like everyone to read and see the combo I ate today. I started my day with Jason Whitlock’s recent blog on Howard Stern, detailing the demise of his subversive style equating it to the death of free speech. Of course, since he sold his soul to Sirius, this is no surprise, but nonetheless tragic.

I then ended my afternoon with the new documentary Creem: America’s Only Rock N Roll Magazine and I was compelled to call the younger generation together for an intervention, that perhaps they need to realize Mommy and Daddy (represented by the media and politicians) have abusive tendencies from which they need to run. Let’s get back to y.o.l.o and eradicate the Polo (as in all that corporate America and the stuffy mega wealth sport touts as so important).

Ok less sarcastic: evolution depends on us a. loving each other, b. continuing to hash out and listen too all ideas and opinions and c. coming to compromise. Devolution is going on ‘recess’ and not talking to each other. We won’t break if we disagree, but we will break if we stop talking.

Creem was a brilliant magazine which I never saw back in the day, but that’s because I did not have older rock n roll siblings showing me the way. But to be honest, I didn’t need Creem Magazine to feel free in the ’70’s because we all were…free to joke around, free to laugh at human folly, free to make mistakes and LEARN from them without getting immediately cancelled. Thank the good Lord I grew up when I did.

The doc was brilliantly told with a story arc of wild men who burned out quickly, masking depression or bipolar disorders with too many substances. But before their demise, they reported on, praised, criticized, made fun of and yet were beloved by their own targets.

Bravo to Scott Crawford who directed and help write the doc, with writing help from Jaan Uhelszki. This film is not only a love letter to the magazine, but to Detroit and writers and artists everywhere who should take this as inspiration to be brave enough to return to the truth plus an essential sense of humor, not the facade all are parading today.

If You Could Read My Mind, You’d See a 7…

While I thoroughly enjoyed the company (my Mom and dear Jack), I don’t think the narrative aspect of Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind was well organized. At least twice, I remember hearing a random comment, out of sync with the previous sequence…for instance, Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni (newbies so forgiven) establish that Gordon was a drinker, then they move on to another topic, then they throw in a line from someone else saying he liked to drink…

The best section of the doc dealt with the history behind the song Sundown when Gordon had an ominous feeling about his then girlfriend, Cathy Smith, later convicted of serving John Belushi the deadly drug cocktail which led to his death.

Two other positives: I will say is that Gordon wanted to come clean about his womanizing days and the emotional pain subsequently inflicted. He is also deserving due to his tremendous lyric writing and distinctive vocal talent.

Beyond that, the story isn’t as well crafted, nor is their an explanation why Alec Baldwin is commenting. And Bruce Cockburn is more prolific, but lesser known as far as best Canadien folk singer. But hey, at least it’s music and apolitical. Hallelujah!

An Ironic Mutiny: The Ghost of Peter Sellers

Ironically, I abandoned ship on a movie that WASN’T about a ship, since Peter Medak’s doc
The Ghost of Peter Sellers
was poignant enough to keep me engaged. Realize, I rarely give up on a film anyway, but my increasing impatience with the distractions of home cinema is fraying my ability to make it to the finish line.

Peter Mendak idolized Peter Sellers, as anyone with comedic taste would, and was thrilled when he agreed to do a movie with him in 1973. Trouble is, between horrible weather, a budget that got out of control and Peter’s mental health, the movie was an entire unreleased failure. Mendak’s doc is his attempt to reconcile the guilt and to explain his rationale for going forward despite the many red flags or should I say, Jolly Roger flags that appeared.

The movie I DID pull the plug on had a really good review
Sorry I Missed You
and granted, it was well acted and by all rights, I should have done my due diligence of research on director Ken Loach, known for his socialist realism. Mind you, I am all for the working class, and know firsthand that employees can be exploited, especially now in desperate pandemic times, but I could only do 45 of the hour and 41 minutes. I am interested in how the movie ends, but it was just too bleak for me to continue.
The film has garnered BAFTA nominations and I was super impressed by all the actors especially Debbie Honeywood and Kris Hitchen as the married couple working their British fannies off to provide a living for their two children.

Shirkers, Halcyon Days

Shirkers is a 2018 documentary written and directed by Sandi Tan which made the short list for Oscars Best Docs of 2019. As much as I talk smack against Amanda of The Big Picture Podcast (mainly because she has not given Shia LaBouef nor Robert Pattinson the credit they deserve), I am blessed to have watched this doc at her encouragement.

Shirkers tells the story of Sandi’s young adult infatuation with an exotic American film director living in her native country of Singapore. Sandi’s shaky upbringing and non-conformist personality led her to seek out charismatic mentors.

Without giving spoilers, Sandi becomes estranged from her man of admiration and attempts to discover the murky parts of the man’s life of which she was unaware.

The music by Ishai Adar and Brad Dutz set the a dreamy atmosphere. Movie clips from classics like Fitzcarraldo and Sex, Lies, and Videotape add to the intrigue. Last, any woman who had an older man crush as a youth will appreciate Tan’s halcyon view of her past, and her attempt to recapture the naive innocence we all once had of the world.

Moment of Zen: Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams isn’t for the Fast and Furious crowd, but given the overload of stress and information, the documentary certainly fit the bill yesterday granting me a much needed Moment of Zen.

The cave which was discovered in the 90’s dates back 35,000 years ago (not a typo:) Within it’s walls lay works of chalk art that have survived throughout history. While my friend had an apt and well timed Mystery Science Theater 3000 comment, “a nerd parade” in relation to the scientists and film makers lucky enough to venture in (the cave is now closed for preservation), the doc was enthralling to think of past civilization who survived much more than Covid.

Ernst Reijseger’s music also added to the documentary’s grandeur. Unplug from the news feed and check it out.

Once We Were Brothers: RR & The Band

Not sure how reviewers can give this film anything lower than a 95. What on God’s Earth do they want?

So dog gone it, I’ll be the sales woman:
In Once We Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, written and directed by Daniel Roher, you’ll be rewarded with:

*a gorgeous history invoked by Robbie Robertson who appears to be a cross between Captain Kangaroo (meaning innocent passion) and Ron Howard (straight laced, but still super hip).
*extraordinary stock photos of the entire band and also precious family photos

(Here’s where I digress to a deja vu I had of my 3/16/2009 concert venture with my sweet son Liam Enright, in the 9th row of Fleetwood Mac, where I repeated at least three times, “Lindsey Buckingham is a very sexy man”, to which Liam eventually said, “Mom, please!”
I had the same heat generating at Burns Court over Levon Helms, who was drop dead gorgeous in his prime.)

*a cautionary tale of the havoc and chaos alcohol and especially heroin can do to one’s creativity and obvious health: Helms (age 71 throat cancer), Richard Manuel (age 42 suicide), and Rick Danko (age 55 heart failure)
*tremendous film footage of Dylan back in the day. And man, do I admire his fashion sense!
*great film footage of The Last Waltz, probably one of, if not THE most important concert of our lifetime (ok, tied with Live Aid)
*Scorsese’s genius re-establishment (in my mind after the abysmal The Irishman), capturing The Last Waltz for film and music history

The only trouble I can see is the odd absence of present day commentary from Garth Hudson (83), who, along with Robbie Robertson, is the last living member. Does this put a question mark on Robbie’s point of view? Did Robbie really take more credit than his due, as Levon emphasized?

In truth, the last man standing gets the final say, but I’d love to know Hudson’s take.

Yet even with that lingering question, you’ll walk out of this doc in a buzz of musical euphoria.

Make it a Double: 63 Up and The Assistant

Not able to run leads me to get desperate, hence I took in two Burns Court movies yesterday.

First 63 Up, the longitudinal British study turned documentary is directed by Michael Apted, Bafta winner for previous incantations of 28 Up and 35 Up. This is my first foray into this series and I was moved. So moved in fact, that I had to opt out with an hour to go. Sure, I lasted 3 hours for The Irishman, but bored-hoping-for-gold sitting is more tolerable than being shaken by actual real lives flashing before your eyes. 63 Up was akin to a music festival, where you’ve already seen 8 great bands, now you want me to watch 5 more? I’d love to see the last hour TODAY, but could not take it all in one shot. Again, that’s a tribute to how well crafted the stories were done. Go see this film!

In the evening, I took in the contemporary drama The Assistant, written and directed by Kitty Green, a champion of realistic psychological abuse issues regarding children in “Casting JonBenet” and Me, Too abuse in The Assistant.

The film stars Julia Garner (best known from Ozarks and The Americans) as a college educated, yet working poor young woman living in Astoria, grinding out a meager living working at a film production office. The film portrays her as virtual slave; as janitor, waitress, irate wife counselor, and secretary, just to name a few.

The film had many similarities to film festival selection “The Chambermaid” which followed the life of a Mexico City Hotel maid, and in comparison pales due to lack of conflictual topography. HOWEVER, the film is worthy of seeing for Julia’s wispy performance as she stifles winces from her bullying boss, and her rejected visage at model types who are granted privileges to which she is never offered. Not only is her job without perks, she is rarely addressed as a fellow human. She is just ‘there’ to work and her pale pick blouse further helps to establish her invisibility.

I enjoyed some of the visual symbolism; when Julia is cleaning up pastries after a meeting, she puts a knotted donut in her mouth making her appear like a canine with a bone. In the HR office where she attempts to level a concern, the chastising manager, slides a cold metallic Kleenex box her way which again evoked an almost dog bowl like sound.

The film will open your eyes to working class loneliness in New York City and I suspect, every city in America.