Hot Docs

Hot Docs Review: Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche (Paul Sng, Celeste Bell, 2021)

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Far from being your typical rock doc, Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché takes the viewer on a much deeper and more personal journey than is often standard for this type of film. This personal touch comes courtesy of co-director Celeste Bell, who just so happens to be the daughter of Poly Styrene herself. As such, this is as much Bell’s story as it is her mother’s, with many of the film’s memorable moments coming through in Bell’s reflections upon Poly Styrene’s life and her legacy as both a performer and a mother.

And what a legacy – if Poly Styrene (born Marion Joan Elliott-Said) were only known for her part in creating X-Ray Spex’s punk classic “Oh Bondage Up Yours!”, her place in music history would be guaranteed. But as the film demonstrates, there was so much more to her than that. As Bell puts it early on in the film, “I think my mum got to the point where she said ‘I’m gonna carve out my own place in the world.’ And you know what? She did.”

Indeed she did.

Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché is screening now as part of Hot Docs.

Hot Docs Review: La Madrina: The Savage Life of Lorine Padilla (Raquel Cepeda, 2020)

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From the outset of La Madrina: The Savage Life of Lorine Padrilla, it seems that the focus of the film might be on the violence and hardships experienced by Padrina during her time as a member of The Savage Skulls gang during the 1970s. Hearing Padrina state bluntly that “I was born with gangsterism is my blood” early on in the film certainly seems to suggest this, though the film doesn’t take too long to head off into a different direction and reveal that it’s about much more than that. As the story develops, we see her journey as she moves from the path of gangsterism towards a life dedicated to activism, finally ending up in her current position as a respected matriarch within her community.

La Madrina presents a deep and surprisingly moving examination of a fascinating life. In telling Lorine Padilla’s story, director Raquel Cepeda is ultimately telling a story on the importance of community and family and the good that can be done by just one person, regardless of where they may have started out.

La Madrina is currently streaming as part of Hot Docs.

Hot Docs Review: Come Back Anytime (John Daschbach, 2021)

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I deliberately picked Come Back Anytime as my first Hot Docs experience this year because in a time of chaos, what I needed most was something warm, inviting and a reminder of good in the world. These are words which describe this documentary well, but which can also be used to describe the primary focus of the documentary – ramen. See what I did there?

Come Back Anytime is a documentary about Masamoto Ueda, a self taught Ramen Master who owns a ramen shop in Tokyo. Now you might be thinking – well, there’s probably 5000 of those in Tokyo. While that is true, this little restaurant goes beyond your normal food porn doc. The documentary explores food as a place of community, a place where individual, sometimes lost souls can find a place of being – certainly a challenge in a place as sprawling, daunting and busy as Tokyo. It looks into how a restaurant of any sort can move beyond a mere transaction and the how it can eventually change the people’s lives around it.

Also – there’s a lot of delicious looking shots of ramen. Makes you hungry and also feel all warm inside.

Hot Docs Link

Hot Docs Review: The Sparks Brothers (Edgar Wright, 2021)

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The duo of Russell and Ron Mael, better known as Sparks, have certainly made their mark on music history. Always creative, always challenging themselves to go off in new, different, and often unusual directions (or does new, different, and unusual just come naturally to them?), Sparks have delighted fans over the course of their lengthy career. Among those fans is Edgar Wright, and in The Sparks Brothers, Wright has managed to capture the essence of the duo’s quirky style in a thorough (and thoroughly entertaining) portrait.

The film features extensive interviews with the Mael brothers as well as commentary from a wide range of musicians, actors, writers, and comedians on the band’s significance. And I do mean a wide range – where else will you find the likes of Erasure, Jack Antonoff, Mike Myers, Patton Oswalt, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Flea, and “Weird Al” all espousing on the same topic in one film? The director himself even appears on screen for a bit, billing himself as simply “Edgar Wright, Superfan.”

Whether you’re a superfan or a Sparks neophyte, The Sparks Brothers is a delightful look at the career of a truly unique and wholly original band.

The Sparks Brothers is currently streaming as part of the Hot Docs festival.