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.

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

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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