Saturday, March 21, 2015

got some free time this weekend?

Tonight there is Sonny Knight and The Lakers and tomorrow night we have an hour of Last Man On Earth, but if you have some free time in between let me recommend a couple of things you might do. Right now there are two great documentaries streaming on Netflix that you should spend some time with. Each are very different in subject matter, but are both so courageously honest in their storytelling that you can't help but feel like a fly on the wall. It is not always a comfortable observation spot, but the willingness to not paint a rosy picture over difficult circumstances is what sets these films apart.

The first documentary is called Harmontown, and it's subject matter is Dan Harmon. He is the show runner and creator of the TV show Community, and this film follows him through the year of his life when he was fired from his show, and eventually re-hired to his show. As a lover of Community, and a listener of his podcast called Harmontown, I knew of the circumstances behind his firing. I'd heard the stories about his unconventional work habits, his mean spirited temper, and his inability to follow direction. But to me he was still the guy responsible for my peals of laughter every Thursday night on Community. I was, and am a true believer, but I love him even more after watching this film. When the film starts, there are a number of talking heads trying to describe who Dan Harmon is. I think John Oliver describes him best when he says "Dan Harmon is a human hand grenade that is fond of pulling his own pin". We see him do this in Harmontown, as he and the other members of the podcast hit the country on tour. But to his credit we get to see Dan Harmon be amazing and funny but also inebriated beyond control and exasperated and loathing of his own tiresome bad habits. It's a train wreck that you can't take your eyes off of, even if at times it seems Harmon willingly punched his own one-way ticket. I will tell you this though - as much as I am drawn to Dan Harmon's story, it is Harmontown's own Dungeon Master Spencer who will steal your heart. Painfully shy and introverted, the transformation we see him go through on the podcast's tour is heart warming. Although transformation probably isn't the right word, I don't think Spencer will ever change. Enjoy folks!

The next documentary is called Life Itself and is about film critic Roger Ebert. I wanted to see this the second I heard it was being made, but sadly it never came to Mankato. It was made by Steve James who made the documentary film Hoop Dreams, which was championed by Roger Ebert when it was released. It was begun not long before Ebert's death and shows in great detail the last stages of Ebert's fight against cancer. As the film describes after the death of his TV co-host Gene Siskel, Ebert decided to be open about his own health concerns. For much of the film we see Ebert in the hospital, at this point he is no longer able to speak, drink or eat. It is almost unbearable to watch at times, and uncomfortable to witness. But if you are a fan of film, you are probably an Ebert fan. You get a taste of Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, the tumultuous relationship behind At The Movies, and Ebert's love affair with the cinema but it is the words of some of my favorite directors of all time describing what Roger Ebert meant to them as film makers that moved me most. Werner Herzog describes dedicating a film to Ebert, Errol Morris says he would not be where he is today without Ebert's help, and perhaps most moving is watching Martin Scorsese choke up when he tells of being lost in the world and aimless until Siskel and Ebert invited him to Toronto for a retrospective of his films. It was after that event that Scorsese knew he was a good if not great film maker, because Ebert believed in him. There are plenty of tears to be cried in watching this documentary, and that is just one of them. 

Who is the bad guy in all of this? Chevy Chase. He was key to Dan Harmon being fired from Community, and in Life Itself we see him re-act to Ebert telling him that The Three Amigos is not a good film on the Tonight Show. It's a bold move, and Chevy Chase does exactly what you would expect him to do.

Thank you Netflix.


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