Besides Still: A Michael J. Fox Documentary, which is the best I have seen in this category, there are others out there, including the very charming Albert Brooks piece (Albert Brooks: Defending My Life) directed by his best friend, Rob Reiner for HBO (MAX).
Defending My Life contains some nice tributes from an all-star cast (living and dead) including Johnny Carson, Steve Allen, Milton Berle, Larry David, Sarah Silverman, Chris Rock, Jon Stewart, Steven Spielberg, Sharon Stone, and Carl Reiner.
I laughed, empathized, and learned some stuff that I maybe should have known, but did not. Very entertaining and very nicely done. A great tribute by a life-long friend to his very good friend. Made me envious. Watch it and be sure to stay to the end… the last moment with David Letterman is a killer.
And then there is American Symphony. A good pal touted this amazing story of the artist Jon Batiste. And what a story it is… worthy of one of those all-star cast movie biographies that Hollywood used to exploit so beautifully.
But there are problems here: tons of footage… backstage, home movies, a Carnegie Hall performance (documented with something like 20 cameras), TV shows, award nights, and a lot of invasive stuff in the hospital as Mrs. Batiste (Suleika Jaouad), herself a New York Times writer and author of the NYT best seller memoir Between Two Kingdoms, battles for her life against an unrelenting cancer.
For openers, Matthew Heineman, the filmmaker, appears not up to the task and, frankly, I am not so sure it is him or the format.
A lot of the intimate scenes in this film would play terrifically well as a dramatization of true events in a theatrical motion picture, but as a documentary there is way too much that makes the viewer (or, perhaps more accurately, this viewer) queasy. Stuff that you know they had to restage with these real-life people, or moments where you feel the documentarian… any documentarian… does not belong such as with them in bed or at critical moments in that hospital room.
A dramatization with actors is one thing… but this got a little too close for my tastes. I could be way out on my own limb here. American Symphony is winning all kinds of accolades and Jon Batiste may well be a once in a generation talent, but my hope is that someone in Hollywood will see this documentary and just go out and do it as the movie it ought to be. Oscars could await. But until then you can find American Symphony, the documentary, on Netflix.
Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones has been on Netflix for a while now with no recent studies that I know of to demonstrate that the message of longevity has been helped by the screening service. Not so for the previous decade. Dan Buettner’s quest for what makes people live longer… focusing on five spots around the globe over multiple filmic episodes… began at the turn of this century and apparently has had some impact by virtue of his taking his film and his findings from town hall to town hall across the US, resulting in some American communities signing on big time with measurable results.
I dunno… Wanna live longer, eat better, socialize, and incorporate your work ethic into something positive? You could do worse than seeing this four-part docu-series.
Out there on YouTube is a Judd Apatow short/short doc called Bob and Don: A Love Story. The two guys of the title are better known to the rest of us as Bob Newhart and Don Rickles. Best friends, for more years than most of us can imagine, Newhart and Rickles are nothing if not funny and charming. The charm is only slightly lessened by the countenance of its one surviving star, Bob Newhart. Google gives credit to Jerry Stackhouse of the NBA for the line “No one beats Father Time,” certainly neither of these guys has.
As to the “Father Time” reference, Google may have gotten this one wrong. It Ain’t Over… a loving documentary tribute by a granddaughter for her old gramps, Yogi Berra, has Berra saying that thing about Father Time long before the aging Jerry Stackhouse was born. Doesn’t matter. Berra has also been credited for a lot of stuff he never said.
I am not a Yankee fan, but you don’t even have to like baseball to appreciate this film which is loaded with sports’ celebrities, newsreel clips, and lots of nostalgia for this genuine American folk hero.
And even if most of this stuff: Berra’s D-Day landing on Omaha Beach, the 10 world series’ rings, the friendships with DiMaggio and Mantle, the long-time feud with George Steinbrenner, the salutes from Billy Crystal, Jackie Robinson, and Bob Costas, along with a veritable who’s who of baseball… even if that doesn’t get you… just like every great sports flick… It Ain’t Over delivers some heartfelt tears at the end. See it on Netflix, Apple TV, or Prime Video. It will be déjà vu all over again.
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