“Alternate Endings” Review: HBO doc chronicles contemporary ways of approaching death, and of meeting it

This review was originally published on KENS5.com and can be viewed here. 

 

“I’m here for my daddy: Adam. He used to tell mommy to shoot him into space when he dies!”

The confidant joy with which a young boy says that to a room full of strangers in “Alternate Endings: Six New Ways to Die in America” is the thesis of the new HBO documentary from co-directors Matthew O’Neill and Perri Peltz. A movie about the unmistakably modern ways people are choosing to approach the end of their life – explored through six individual vignettes – O’Neill and Peltz succeed in encouraging us to have conversations about the inevitability of our last days and, more poignantly, showing that we can be the ones to begin that conversation instead of leaving it to our loved ones after we’ve already passed.

It’s a disquietly tradition-breaking idea, something the unassumingly straightforward “Alternate Endings” makes note of at the start. The movie explains that unorthodox methods of memorialization – ranging from the environmentally-conscious to the completely strange, and sometimes going off with a literal bang of a rocket – have disrupted a funeral business that rakes in $16 billion a year. That’s the sole statistic in a documentary fueled by empathy, appearing during a prologue set in a funeral convention (yes, really) where marching bands play alongside displayed coffins, cemetery brochures have the sunny disposition of open house catalogs and morbidity is a corporate commodity. Continue reading →

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Review: In “Maiden,” charting a course for equality

Like unassuming ripples that evolve into waves to be reckoned with, the ragtag group of sailors spotlighted in the new Alex Holmes-directed documentary “Maiden” – about the first ever all-women crew to compete in a yacht race around the world – are connected by a dream that evolves into an unspoken understanding surrounding the magnitude of their 1989 voyage.

It’s astonishing that it happens over a brisk 95 or so minutes; while the movie tends to cut away from its emotional pinnacles a bit too soon, watching “Maiden” feels like we’re witnessing the historic 1989 journey of British skipper Tracy Edwards and her crew in real-time, feeling the shifting perceptions of those watching the sport. It’s a vitally raw example of the value of documentation and a timely (and timeless) portrait of a barrier-breaking endeavor playing on the strength of depicting an easy-to-root-for team with a dream within the context of an athletic event that stands as ripe fruit for storytelling in its own right: The many-thousands-of-miles-long Whitbread Round the World Race. Continue reading →

Review: ‘Hail, Satan?’ is an unexpectedly timely rejection of a toxic hive-mind mentality

The title of “Hail Satan?” is presented as a question. But from the viewpoint of this documentary on the contemporary non-theistic, activist movement that is the Satanic Temple, and the everyday people who run it, it’s pretty clear-cut – perhaps to the point of ironic confirmation, more likely to the point of semi-existential shock – who can or can’t legitimately call themselves a Satanist. At least by the temple’s definition.

The inquiry is much more affirming than you’d probably expect, and after just a few minutes you realize it would generate more rigorous self-reflection to ask yourself something along the lines of: “Do I want to get up and make myself a sandwich right now?”

Continue reading →

Top 10 movies of 2018

2018 was a gnarly f*cking year.

I think no matter what your political affiliation, how much time you spend on Twitter or whether you stan DC or Marvel films, we can all agree that that is fact now that it’s over.

Thankfully, we still had new cinema to turn to. To provide us solace, to help us make sense of it all, to provide context for changing times and to make us wish that we had a bucket hat-wearing, marmalade sandwich-munching expatriate helping us to get along with each other.

But perhaps even Paddington was too good for this world.

Continue reading →

Roswell’s first (human) visitors

71 years after a UFO allegedly landed in southeast New Mexico – instantly cementing the town of Roswell as a pop culture monument and Mecca to UFO enthusiasts – the memorialized crash site finally held its first public tour.

This is the story of that tour, and the five strangers who came from vastly different places and backgrounds to be there, united and joined by their belief.

For the full print story, published in the Albuquerque Journal, click here or here.

Review: In ‘Three Identical Strangers,’ you only think you know what you’re in for

We typically enter documentaries in a different mindset, a different approach than with typical Hollywood fare.

Familiarity bypasses anticipation not by way of absent excitement, but rather because we expect to delve deeper into a subject we’re already at least somewhat familiar with. Earlier this year, the melancholic “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” underwent that route to excellent ends.

“Three Identical Strangers,” however, defies that expectation. If you know this story, chances are you only know how it begins. As has become customary in the age of instant gratification and mistaking 280 characters on Twitter for a news story, we rarely follow up on the flavor of the 5-minute trend – and that’s where the film seizes its chance to captivate. Continue reading →