Reviews & More: Documentary Darlings

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Documentary Filmmaker Michael Moore

Documentaries continue to pour forth from gifted filmmakers and we are all much richer for it. Here are four I recommend.

“Fahrenheit 11/9.” Michael Moore’s new film is one of his more successful endeavors: a hard-hitting exposé of raging greed that disregards the horrific toll it takes on human beings. As he says, in a voice-over, “No terrorist organization has figured out how to poison an entire American city. It took the Michigan Republican Party to pull that off.” Yes, he goes after the current administration and yes, he can be the voice of doom if you harbor any hopes that things will be better, but he doesn’t only skewer one political party. The Democrats, especially Obama, come in for some tongue-lashing in this more-subdued-than-usual portrait of America in crisis. Of course, there is some grandstanding and Moore’s signature outrageous questions of unsuspecting targets of his disapproval, but less than usual. In case you’re wondering at the play-on-words title (Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” was released in 2004), November 9, 2016, was the day Donald Trump was declared the winner of the presidential election. Enough said.

“Jane Fonda in Five Acts.” We think of Fonda as the ultimate feminist, from her career choices to play strong women (“Klute,” “9 to 5,” “The China Syndrome”) and her aggressive stance against the Vietnam War. And yet, each act is the focus of her relationship with powerful men—her father and three husbands—except for the final act, the looking back. She is a woman of contradictions: fascinating ones. The film covers her career with its ups and downs and her marriages and their ups and downs. Archival footage is interspersed with modern day interviews with her. If you’re a fan of her work (I am), it will be a rewarding viewing experience. There are two drawbacks, in my opinion: At two hours and 13 minutes, this HBO production is too long. And I found some of the modern day interviews somewhat self-serving and filled with inconsistencies. On the other hand, who among us can look back on long lives with total emotional and factual recall?

“Quincy.” Quincy Jones is, and has been from the beginning of his career, an American treasure. Born in Chicago’s tough South Side in 1933 and raised in Seattle, he knew from early childhood music would be his life. Always seeking new challenges and with a restless nature, he began as a jazz trumpet player and arranger, but over the past 60-odd years has been a pop composer, arranger, record producer and record company executive, not to mention a TV and film producer, conductor and brilliant scorer of films. He has worked with and been admired by Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Ray Charles and too many others to mention. This Netflix documentary honors his career, but it’s the focus on the man himself that sets it apart from others like it. Jones is a major humanitarian and social activist but also very human—humble yet confident, aware of his shortcomings. There is a calm about him that must have been exactly what was needed when he worked with high-strung and insecure artists. To see him today with his many children (actress Rashida Jones is the film’s producer) is to see a man who has come to understand the value of family. To hear him talk about his brushes with death, his past regrets, his struggles with addiction, is awe-inspiring. If you’re not familiar with his work, you are in for a treat: Jones has been responsible for major musical moments in your life that you were never aware of. If you’re a fan, as I am, this is the documentary for you.

“Robin Williams: Come Inside my Mind.” If you miss him and if you missed this documentary when it debuted a few months ago, don’t miss it now. I laughed and I cried. So will you.