Reviews

Hot Docs Review: FANNY: The Right to Rock (Bobbi Jo Hart, 2021)

Posted on by Paul in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

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“Just about every single interview we did, the opening question was, ‘Well, how does it feel to be a girl playing an instrument?’ And, you know, Jesus, did you do any research?”

So says Fanny bassist and singer Jean Millington at one point during Fanny: The Right to Rock and while women in rock music have definitely come a long way since Fanny’s heyday, what’s striking is that that women in bands are most certainly still being asked that question to this day. Sigh.

Fanny: The Right to Rock is a compelling and heartwarming portrait of a band that broke a lot of ground in the 1960s and ’70s, made a bit of an impact and won over a lot of people at the time, and who to this day still have a lot of big names championing them. But for various reasons (sexism, racism, homophobia), the band never quite did have the impact that they probably should have.

Featuring interviews with the likes of Kate Pierson (The B-52’s), Kathy Valentine (The Go-Go’s) and Joe Elliott (Def Leppard) singing the band’s praises, the film takes a deep dive into the band’s progression throughout their career, from their origins as the first all woman band to sign to a major label to their attempt to relaunch their career with reunion album Fanny Walked The Earth.

Director Bobbi Jo Hart makes a good case for the band’s legacy as trailblazers and while the band never did quite reach the heights that they could have, this film just might help to open up their music to a wider audience. And rightfully so, since Fanny absolutely rocks.

Fanny: The Right to Rock is currently available to stream through hotdocs.ca

SXSW Film Review: Oxy Kingpins (Brendan FitzGerald)

Posted on by Gary in Movies, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

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Why were cameras allowed in a Nevada court where logistic companies were fighting a losing battle in their war to shield the American public from their corporate agenda during the opioid crisis of the 2000s? I don’t know; probably the same reason why drug dealers allowed the camera to capture their stories on the same subject as well.

More than half a million Americans have already succumbed to the opioid epidemic – and that’s just from the opioid itself. In a country made numb and inert by racial inequity, gun violence, and wealth disparity, this is what touched the nerves of many groups of powerful lawyers. Oxy Kingpins is a film that presents the ongoing saga of trying to right this particular wrong through the legal avenue in just one state.

There have been quite a few documentaries on this topic. Frontline’s Chasing Heroin was an early eye-opener, for example. In comparison, Kingpins, while highly polished, does not strike at your sense of disbelief by revealing much privileged information. The stories, the emotions, even the legal actions seemed an inevitable rehash with a foregone conclusion at this point in time. No matter the outcome of these trials, executives at the logistics and pharmacy companies have already walked away scot-free. What will you do about it – make a documentary? While the filmmakers shared in such anguished sentiments, there was not a clear message when the credits rolled. Perhaps that was intentional. The crispness of this production about tragic addictions and destitution does seem to stylistically mirror the attitude of the film’s namesake: suave, oleaginous, somehow unhealthily and eternally evasive.

SXSW Film Review: Ninjababy [Yngvild Sve Flikke]

Posted on by Gary in Movies, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Since we hit peak accidental-pregnancy-drama back in 2007, I don’t think I have set eyes on another fictional account of adventitious gamete excursion. A decade of taboo breaking has also lessened the novelty and impact of these stories on the typical audience. I, for one, no longer remember what Juno or Knocked Up was precisely about. Which mean it is the perfect time for a revival. And since stoic Norwegians are the perfect embodiment of the “no-fuss”, pragmatic Scandinavian stereotype, why not marry the two and watch the ensuing hilarity?

I’d like to think Ninjababy is borne of such a light-hearted meeting of ideas. But in truth it does not matter if it’s meant to be comedic or a moral statement. Aspiring cartoonist Rakel suddenly finds herself 6 months pregnant, which, among other inconveniences, quickly becomes the most inconveniently all-consuming event, as pregnancies are wont to do. She needs to deal with it quickly, before it gets out (of hand) and destroys her future. However, as she is dealing with a living, breathing, energy-sucking human being, that’s not so easy. Personifying (because anthropomorphasization does not work on humans-to-be) it as NINJABABY due to its uncanny ability to stay undetected until well-after the abortion window, Rakel must negotiate with herself, boyfriends, sisters, as well as the snarky baby and come up with a pragmatically workable solution.

While Ninjababy is a great animated character with quick one-liners. Rakel’s attitude carries the entire film. Of course, she is not without feelings of remorse for the welfare of her child, but there are other calculations that must be balanced. Half-way through, most would think that she will eventually give in, have the baby, and live as a sedentary housewife. But that’s not how she rolls. Whether looking at people and doing computational > eval() like Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes, directing her love-interest and the one-night-stand dad-to-be about, or acting the middle-class-ist who punches up, her character only strengthens as the film develops. The most riotous moment is when Rakel sneaks into a prep class to “test” people, only to get drawn into an argument with potential adoptive parents on how their target pool, and by extension their moral benevolence, is not racially diverse enough. That scene alone makes this film a worthwhile watch. But ultimately what I like about the film is in fact its pragmatism. Sure, one may think it’s a great feminist statement to reject the cliché expectation – but being a rebel for rebellion’s sake requires confirmation, from onside or outside. And when others are evaluating your “worth” with their own formula, where does that leave you? Life will go on regardless … why not dictate it the way you want?

SXSW Film Review: The Hunt for Planet B [Nathaniel Kahn, 2021]

Posted on by Gary in Movies, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

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While it is generally accepted that the answer to all questions in the Universe is 42, it is not clear how it applies to the question of advanced civilizations out there. Can there only be 42 planets that sustain life at any one time? Are there 42 different recipes to build self-sustaining lifeforms? Perhaps there are 42 planets, organic molecules be damned, that form themselves a long-range intergalactic “civilization” on a time-scale unfathomable to our feeble instruments of thought?

The exo-planet issue has of course been resolved recently. You will recall that in February 2017, NASA announced their findings in the TRAPPIST-1 system, where not only could planets be found, but every single one is Earth-sized and at least three of them are in the habitable Goldilocks zone. Naturally, the only thing on most people’s mind was: can we ever move there? Travel posters were soon designed about these exotic paradises, where 6 “moons” pirouette across the horizon like cheap targets in some fun-fair. Never mind that these environs would probably kill even short-term visitors in fascinatingly unanticipated ways: “For several trillion dollars, experience radiantly purple sky as a 300 millisecond short-term memory just before your skull is blasted open by the steam from your own eyeballs!”

The Hunt for Planet B is a compositionally straight-forward documentary. Interviews with leading scientists and engineers working in telescope construction and exoplanet research are stitched together to introduce their origins, passions, and concerns on the question of finding a second home. It’s like surveying the consensus among cartographical wizards from the 15th century about the possibility and morality of moving to Terra Incognita, except it contains exclusive footage during the construction of the James Webb telescope. The many personal vignettes from the scientists add to the human element, and are happily not included just to bond the pieces of footage together. That job falls to the occasional radio broadcast background from the ’80s, reminding us just how close a Planet B might be: TRAPPIST-1 is just 40 light years away, still basking in “Just the Two of Us” from Bill Withers, #18 on the charts in 1981, for the first time.

It is clearly a universal curiosity to seek out or refute the possibility of another Earth out there, making the topics of this film a perennial interest. While it focuses on the search, which is the least we can do at the moment, a huge issue as we become more equipped to explore distant worlds is the philosophy with which we approach such travel: are we just looking for a way to leave our present abode like an irresponsible interstellar renter? As highlighted in the film, there are already “ethical” calls to curb exo-planetary hunts because it distracts from our current ecological plights. But we could also look forward to contrast our planet with a truly feasible alternative, in hopes to re-affirm the bond with our home world. There are even more convoluted and existential discussions to be had, of course, but here the film leaves it simply at the pragmatic question: “Would you go”? Personally, interplanetary travel is little different from intra-planetary travel, and shit gets left behind. (Literally.) I would hope that we think deep and hard about the ramifications before breaking wind on another planet only to leave an irreversible stink.