While not graphic, ‘Extremis’ is by design, hard to watch. This Oscar nominated short documentary covers a subject everyone needs to prepare for but no one wants to: what’s the protocol if you (or a member of your family) due to health or accident, needs to be hooked up to a machine to continue living? How long do you let them live (usually in some level of pain)? Practically for the vast majority of us, how long can you financially afford to let them live like this? Do they even want to, if they haven’t explicitly set up this situation in their will (which this film made me revisit)? How big of a role do the doctors play in laying out the practical facts versus advising you what to do in what is ultimately the family’s decision?
It’s only a 24 minute film, but the filmmakers do a great job of presenting the various stages of grief/denial you would expect in this situation, as well as the toll it takes on the doctors themselves (who after all, are only human).
Now streaming on Netflix.
Nominated for Best Documentary Short this year at the Academy Awards, ‘The White Helmets’ takes the audience (especially in America) a front row seat to a place we hear about daily on the news but don’t actually experience.
The White Helmets are a voluntary rescue group in Syria who go into the heart of the war zones and attempt to save as many lives as possible, without asking which side they were fighting on. The film follows the group as they save lives, while also following them to Turkey where they train (both physically and psychologically) for what they’re destined to see.
If you’re reading this, you most likely are aware that the filmmakers and the White Helmets themselves are not allowed into this country (and thus will not be at the Oscars, win or lose. However you feel about that, you should take 40 minutes out of your day or night and appreciate what these guys are doing.
Now streaming on Netflix.
I want to stay away from the obvious cliches when I judge this film on its own and within the long view of Ava Duvernay’s career (‘this is an important film’), so I’ll try to find the right words at the end…
The conceit of this documentary is that while the 13th Amendment abolished slavery…it really didn’t. The U.S. Civil War (like pretty much every other war, ever) was about economics. The Southern economic system was destroyed, so…something had to replace it. And as a side note, all those blacks who that economic system was completely dependent on…what about them?
So that’s your starting point in this, incredible film. Writing it down as I am now really doesn’t do it justice, but you get a five star ‘the History of Black America’ story in under two hours that rarely, if ever, moves too far away from its thesis. You want a quick lesson in why (the original) Birth of a Nation is so important for all the wrong reasons? It’s in here. You want to know how coded language has evolved from nigger to ‘crack users’ to ‘thugs’ over the years? It’s covered pretty well here. You want a quick political science lesson in how Nixon won over the South to the Republican party, and how the Clintons figured out how to neutralize that advantage? It’s in here.
It’s history but make no mistake, this is a ‘film’ as well. It’s art. The use of graphics to illustrate how the prison rate keeps escalating, the use of hip hop to guide us through the political eras (I reflexively threw up my fist when Public Enemy came on.) The editing is superb; in the early sections you will question why aren’t black people constantly boiling over in anger, in the present day Black Lives Matter section, I had to look away as the film makes you relive Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and the still growing list of boys who’ve been killed for being.
I have no inside information on if Ava even cares about industry awards, but as I write this either this film or the more L.A. centric story about race, ‘O.J. Made in America’ is the frontrunner for Best Documentary. What I can say is that this is in my opinion the best film she’s directed to this point in here in her career by far.
Streaming on Netflix. Watch it.
I’m late to the party on this one but glad I eventually found it…
Nelson George’s ‘A Ballerina’s Tale’ is a roughly 90 minute documentary that introduces many of us to the story of Misty Copeland, the first black woman to be cast as the lead ballerina by many international ballet troupes. Born in Kansas City(!), the film picks up when Misty is already well respected and known in the inner circles of that world, but before the outside world asks ‘Why hasn’t there been any people of color headlining Swan Lake or the Nutcracker or any of these stories that aren’t pure historical re-enactments?’
My personal favorite part of Nelson’s film was seeing how Misty was assigned a ‘consigliere’ that she could confide in and look to as ‘the first black…’ in her path. Dihanne Carroll, Victoria Rowell, Veronica Webb, I’m pretty sure I saw Cheryl Boone Isaac in some of those pictures. That part of what we all do that’s not so directly about your talents or gifts but just having a support system; I love that.
When Misty starts to become a name and the little girls really start coming through and the brothers who never had any interest in ballet start coming through, and Under Armour…the tracks were laid for her to be a star and she’s handling it well.
Fun, really quick watch and very inspiring. Now streaming on Netflix.
So there’s the names you recognize because it’s been in the marketing. Baz Luhrmann. Nas. Nelson George if you’re a hip hop head.
The name not as heavily promoted but who played a significant role of his own is my brother in many things in this life, Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, officially credited as a Co-Executive Producer on ‘The Get Down’, which you can start streaming tonight on Netflix (or possibly right now depending on when you read this.)
I’ve enjoyed the hype leading up to this as much as most of you have, and I know the sacrifices Aaron made to be a part of this project, so I have high hopes as both a friend and a fan for this one.
Six episodes now, with the latter six coming next year. Can’t wait.
Congrats Aaron! And the rest of you, make this a part of your weekend!
You all know who my team is. But as you see above, my favorite player from my generation never played for the Lakers.
An undersized guy among Giants. Wears his flaws on his sleeve. A natural born underdog, rebel, and non-conformist.
‘Iverson’ gives you all the highlights of what made ‘the Answer’ so appealing to myself and millions of others. Even when you know the broad strokes (as I did), the filmmakers do a good job of making the ride entertaining.
You get the clips of his high school football and basketball career (State Champion in both sports, and even at this stage, just another level of speed and athleticism over everyone else on the field.) The circumstances around the bowling alley brawl that sent him to prison (and how that unsurprisingly shaped his attitude for the rest of his life.) Being drafted by the 76ers and becoming a culture shock to the Association in the post Michael Jordan era (after that famous crossover of His Airness of course).
And the moment I remember most vividly: that Game 1 of the NBA Finals against my Lakers. I was here, so trust me on this: the trash talking and arrogance leading up to that series was one of those ‘I see why people hate L.A./the Lakers.’ I kid you not, they were promoting the Championship party after Game 4 before Game 1 was played. There was no question who the better team was, but to this day I can’t remember cheering as loudly after an upset victory over my own team as I was that night (sorry Coach Lue). You could hear a pin drop in this city after that game was over. I was ready to put him in the Hall of Fame that night.
So check out ‘Iverson’. Now streaming on Netflix.
I have to shout out my friends at Marvel.
I was already looking forward to this; when I heard it’s coming out at the end of #MalikWeek2016, I couldn’t have been more flattered. Pretty sure this will be the first series where I stream the whole thing in one day.
(No pressure Netflix…)
And I like that logo in the back I didn’t spot the first few times I saw this…
So the sizzle reel for ‘The Get Down’ came out this morning. On top of looking great on its own merit, my friend Aaron Rahsaan Thomas (director of ‘Trojan War’) happens to be one of the creative people behind the scenes helping to bring this series to light.
So add that to the reasons you should be hyped to see this come out!
Do I carry a certain amount of bias for ‘Master of None’ as a minority actor who favors the ‘silly love stories with a heart’? Sure, I guess I do. But I still think ‘Master of None’ is fantastic.
As someone on Twitter brilliantly pitched it, this show is ‘a younger, less surreal version of Louie’. Aziz Ansari plays a version of himself, an Indian-American actor in New York trying to get ahead while also navigating modern love and figuring out if it’s something he genuinely wants. Like any good pitch though, that just gets you in the door.
The casting is exceptional. Along with my brother from an intercontinental mother Aziz, Lena Waithe gets to be the friend who most often makes the best advice for ‘Dev.’ H. Jon Benjamin (who for better for worse will never get away from Archer for me) shows up for a few episodes as a costar on a project Dev lands. Claire Danes gets to turn up to 15 as one of Dev’s love interests.
And the episode themes! Feminism from a ‘good guy’ point of view. The sacrifices our parents made for us (from a first generation immigrant point of view). Playing the stereotype (to make a living) vs. fighting the good fight (and maybe not getting ahead) as a minority in the Business. And true to the style of Aziz Ansari, it’s all entertaining and funny.
Netflix does it again. Carve out those 10 half hours and watch it.
Fukunaga is the auteur and Idris is the name you recognize on the poster, but ‘Beasts of No Nation’ belongs to Abraham Attah.
‘The Wire’ and ‘City of God’ both excel in showing you how children with no hope can become stone cold killers. ‘Beasts’ asks an even more somber question: ‘What if it’s complete within reason things didn’t have to go this way?’
No matter how good the story is, or how great the auteur may be, it’s a HUGE leap of faith to pin your story’s fate on a child actor. So I keep coming back to it; Attah’s performance is not overly ‘showy’ in my opinion, but he hits his character’s arc fully. Playful childhood innocence to programmed child soldier to the ‘what now’ on the other side (if there is an other side).
Streaming on Netflix. Watch it.