While it's a fairly straight-forward, academic documentary, "Make|SHIFT" shows the amazing evolution and transformation of advertising, from its earliest incarnations of the 20th Century, to the hyper-focused targeted ads of today. It even hints at what is to come.
And while its an interesting journey to see how far we've come, the documentary is also about the "ad men" - and women - who have influenced their industry, and in turn American culture, over the decades. It's the subjects that add to the worthwhile nature of this indie doc, and what makes "Make|SHIFT" effective.
Near the end of the documentary, "Tina," the legendary, raspy-voiced superstar singer is escorted into a Broadway play based on her life, "Tina: The Tina Turner Story," with screaming, adoring fans mobbed all over the scene and surrounding her as she makes her way inside. On one arm is Tina's husband since 2013, Erwin Bach, and on her other arm is none other than her close friend, Oprah Winfrey.
It took me a few seconds to even realize that Oprah was there, and the fervorous fan-base chanting Tina's name also couldn't care less. Tina still has it...and is still such a force to be reckoned with that you don't even notice when she's standing next to Oprah Winfrey. Tina is larger than life, larger than Oprah...an icon and an inspiration to many. But arriving at that precise moment outside the theater, happy, content and in love, is really a tremendous testament to the endurance of Tina Turner. I'd say her rise was impossible, if only Tina hadn't in fact made it possible.
The tumultuous, incredible life of Tina Turner is on full display in the new HBO Max documentary film, simply titled "Tina." It takes what you may know about her and goes deeper than ever before, and is an emotional swan song for the now 81-year-old legend, who is deciding to slowly bow out of the limelight after all these years.
NETFLIX Review: 'Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal,' privilege with and for a price
In 2019, an investigation that was dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues" uncovered a scandalous scheme involving super-wealthy parents who were caught buying access for their children to attend prestigious colleges and universities across America.
To the majority of the public, the "faces" of this scandal were actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin - who were perhaps the two most famous individuals involved - but there were allegedly over 700 families caught up in it (though over 50 formally charged). All of whom had two things in common: They had committed a felony, and they had dealt directly with Rick Singer, a "coach" and consultant to the super-rich, who was the man who cooked the whole thing up.
Billie Eilish is about the biggest star on the planet at the moment, the singer/songwriter sensation who at age 15, uploaded a song to SoundCloud ("Ocean Eyes") and went on to become one of the most iconic and beloved stars of her generation. Her second album, 2019's "When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?" was one of the best-selling album of 2019, with her number-one hit "Bad Guy" going platinum ten-times-over.
She's won two American Music Awards, three MTV Video Music Awards and five Grammys...becoming the youngest and only the second-ever to sweep the four major Grammy categories - Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Album of the Year - in a single year (if you're wondering who the first person to do this was, it was Christopher Cross in 1980).
Eilish did all this before turning 19...and the most fascinating part of her deeply-compelling, revealing new documentary, "Billie Eilish: The World's A Little Blurry" (debuting on Apple TV+ on Feb. 26th), is just how glaringly adolescent Eilish still is. Despite being responsible for lyrics and vocals far beyond her years, we see Billie having boy trouble, getting her driver's license, handling the tremendous physical and emotional pressures that come with fame and fortune, and obsessing about Justin Bieber.
In other words, she's just your average teenager, other than the fact that Billie Eilish's talents as an artist are anything but average.
Review: 'More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story' pulls no punches - or kicks - in profiling the late, trail-blazing actor
"Cobra Kai" is the hottest show in town, with its third season having just recently premiered on Netflix in early January (its first two seasons aired on the already-gone YouTube Red premium service). You can draw a line from its success right back to the late actor, Pat Morita, whose portrayal as Mr. Miyagi in "The Karate Kid" (and three sequel films) earned him an Oscar-nomination and is one of the most iconic film roles of all-time.
But as the title of this new doc plainly states, there is much more to the story of Pat Morita and "More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story" is required viewing for any fan of Miyagi or "The Karate Kid." So in other words, this is a movie for everyone, and perhaps surprisingly, it doesn't pull any punches - or kicks - in its portrayal of the pioneering persona.
A scholarly documentary, "The Human Factor" walks us through the Middle East Peace Process, as told from the perspective of United States mediators under George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and beyond.
Right on time, "MLK/FBI" will be available for all to see, over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. It's the latest documentary from Oscar-nominated filmmaker, Sam Pollard (watch my recent interview with Sam Pollard), whose last two docs, "Mr. SOUL!" and "Two Trains Runnin'" were two of the best documentaries of the last decade.
As always, Pollard's latest effort could not have come at a better time, when our country should heed the lessons of Dr. King's non-violent protests, juxtaposed against the government's continuous effort to keep powerful black leaders in check.
Earlier in 2020, a Showtime documentary called "Kingdom of Silence" detailed the brutal murder of The Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, as he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and was never heard from again. That documentary was one of the best of the year, with this being my only critique:
"While "Kingdom of Silence" does a great job in setting the stage for his disappearance, it would have been even more effective had it put into context exactly why his murder has meaning, and the political fall-out of the American-Saudi relationship being tested as it never quite has before." (Read Full "Kingdom of Silence" Review).
Well, my request has been answered in the form of a new documentary film called, "The Dissident." These two films were made independent of one another, but together they paint a brutal, shocking and unbelievable picture of not just what happened to Khashoggi, but why each and every American should care.
It might not be remembered as such (there were a few other things going on this year), but 2020 was one heck of a year for documentary film. Because there were so many GREAT docs released this year, I thought it only appropriate that they deserved their own "best of" list.
Here then, are the ten best documentary films of 2020 (I may have cheated a bit and included 11 total films...read on for explanation):
Young talented high schoolers from all walks of life compete in the annual August Wilson Monologue Competition, giving them the opportunity of a lifetime: To not only get a chance to appear on Broadway, but gain exposure to some of the greatest, most poignant and culturally impactful works of the 20th Century.
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