Monday, June 23, 2014

Netflix University

I haven't updated this list for months and months, so I've got a LOT of recommendations/reviews for you! Happy learning!

Titanic's Final Mystery
I've already watched and recommended Titanic's Achilles Heel, which focuses on how exactly the Titanic sunk (which was NOT how Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio would have you believe). But this documentary focuses on why the heck Titanic's lookouts could have FAILED to notice a gigantic iceberg until they were 30 seconds away from it. It also debunks some of the myths surrounding the Titanic--whether or not the captain was drunk, whether or not a nearby ship even knew what was going on. The sinking of the Titanic really was a freak accident, in so many ways. So many elements came together to create a disaster.

Pope Joan
Not quite long enough to go as in depth as I would have liked, but a nice little intro to the story. (Granted., there's not a whole lot to the story--resources are limited.) Legend has it that a woman made her way to the papacy in the Middle Ages, and wasn't found out until she collapsed during a procession. BECAUSE SHE WAS GIVING BIRTH.

Beyond Survival With Les Stroud (series)
This was one of those things that I enjoyed at the time, but it ended up having a much more profound effect on me as time went on. When you live in the first world, it gets easy to complain, or to have high standards for your living conditions. It sounds cheesy, but you take your four walls and roof for granted, especially if it's not painted perfectly, or is old, or isn't decorated well. But you freaking have WALLS. And there are THOUSANDS of people, around the world RIGHT NOW, who don't have that. And while this means danger and pain for some, there are lots that are just fine. That are okay. For whom that's normal. They are still able to make their lives good. That was a good lesson for me. When I want a new...well, ANYTHING, thinking of my life in comparison to others around the world helps me remember that what I have is JUST FINE.

Escape to Chimp Eden (series)
I actually didn't finish this series, and I watch it, oh...two years ago? But I've never posted about it. It's painful at times, but important, and also enjoyable at other times. I got sucked into the drama of it all. It's about a man who runs a chimp sanctuary. Most of the chimpanzees he works with have been taken out of really abusive situations--the entertainment industry, where they were forced to drink/smoke, or from private homes, where people got an exotic pet that they eventually couldn't handle. The most striking thing from this television series that I learned is that chimpanzees can develop the same psychological and physiological disorders that people can--from OCD to alcoholism to schizophrenia to PTSD. That knowledge has deepened my feelings that for the most part, people should let nature be.

Into the Pride (series)
Pretty interesting series. A wildlife reserve in Namibia gets a pride of 16 lions, but the lions are so aggressive that they'll either have to be "rehabilitated" or put down. Big cat trainer Dave Salmoni spends six months trying to help the pride balance their natural "wild side" with being calm enough to deal with inevitable human interaction. It was a fascinating look at lion "culture" (as in, the rules and norms of life as a lion), and of all of the issues facing wildlife in Africa right now. And the series has everything you could wish for in a wildlife documentary: thrilling suspense, cute baby animals, family dynamics, etc.

Nazi Temple of Doom
This is a "laundry documentary." My friend Carrie has what she calls "laundry movies"...something interesting enough to occupy you, but not so fascinating that you have to give it your full attention. It's a "multi-tasking movie," or something that you could fold laundry to. There was a decent bit of Nazi occult, German politics got WEIRD during that whole WWII era. An interesting, short watch to put on while you're cleaning the house or making dinner or doing a craft or something.

The Elephant in the Living Room
I've been really interested lately in the world of exotic pet ownership...somehow, it's just come up fairly often in the last few months, whether on Netflix or National Geographic. It's a bizarrely unregulated world--there are no national laws about exotic pet ownership, and laws vary from state to state. 9 states don't require any kind of permit, and 2 states have no laws at all. It's estimated that there are as many as 20 million exotic pets in the United States--there are more Bengal tigers living in Texas than there are in the wild in India. This documentary follows several exotic pet owners, and does some investigation into the world of the exotic pet trade. There are times when it's emotionally difficult to watch. There was one scene towards the end with a man who owned lions that tore me up for days afterwards. If you are an animal lover, this will probably be a difficult documentary to watch. But it feels like an important one.

One Lucky Elephant
Another one with a theme of wild pet ownership, this documentary follows the story of an elephant raised in a circus, and her owner's decision to find her a new home. He'd known her for so long, having raised her since babyhood, and that makes parting ways a difficult and complicated choice. There's also an uncomfortable reality that animals, especially elephants, are much more emotionally developed creatures than we've given them credit for in the past--rehabilitating an elephant who's grown up in the circus reveals some illuminating truths about what captivity does to undomesticated species. 

Fame High
A pretty interesting look at the whole "I'm a teenager and I'm going to be famous" world, and the "show-parents"/supportive parents that raise them. That's a pretty generalized summary, but to be honest, I don't think about this documentary very often. I watched it months ago, and found it enlightening at the time, but it didn't quite grab me the way other documentaries do. Perhaps consider it a "laundry documentary."

Surviving Katrina
In August of 2005, I was living with dear friends, working a fun job at Walmart, and getting ready for another semester of school to begin. I remember that the night Hurricane Katrina hit, Annie and I were over at Tim and Rosa's house, and Rosa was dying my hair. We had the television on, and the news kept giving updates, but we weren't really paying too much attention. This was one of those things that somehow didn't seem part of my world at the time...I was a little too young and selfish to connect with what happened. But I'm guilty of the same thing so many were--abandoning those I didn't feel connected to. There were so many factors that made this disaster so bad. There was a lack of infrastructure to deal with floodwaters that high, there wasn't enough communication, there were no supplies being sent in, and people were not getting the help they needed. There was one awful story about a doctor who kept requesting ambulances and medical assistance. And for almost a week, nothing came. Finally, he discovered that there was a line of ambulances waiting miles away, and they had been waiting for three days, and when he asked them what they were doing, they replied "We're waiting for patients." No one understood how bad things were, and what was needed. And towards the end, it was so hopeless that the streets became dangerous not because of floodwaters, but because of gunshots. I heard some horrible ideas during Hurricane Katrina, about New Orleans being a "sinful city" that "deserved destruction." I've heard people say that the descent into lawlessness that happened is proof of the depravity of the city. But I would say that what the history of Katrina illustrates far more clearly is that human beings will become how you treat them. If you abandon and dismiss an entire city's people, you cannot expect them to react submissively and calmly. Human beings are far more spirited, and I think their anger and upset was justified. It still is.

Sound City
Amazon Prime
Jacob and I want to be friends with Dave Grohl. So bad. And we love rock music. This is such an inspiring documentary--I hardly ever write music nowadays, but I picked up the guitar before I had even finished watching. I just had this incredible urge to CREATE. The story of the documentary is...well, here's the official blurb: "the film was conceived by Grohl after purchasing the legendary custom-built Neve 8028 recording console from Sound City Studios last year. The board, built in 1972, is considered by many to be the crown jewel of analog recording equipment, having recorded such artists as Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Guns and Roses, Metallica, NIN, Rage Against The Machine and countless other musical legends over the past 40 years." It started as the story of the sound board, but became much bigger. So awesome.

Chasing Beauty
An honest and interesting look at the labyrinth of the modeling industry. Contrary to popular belief, modeling is much MUCH more than being "pretty" have to look INTERESTING. And furthermore, you have to be able to open up on camera and be photogenic. And be personable and friendly. I have a few friends who model professionally, and it's a lot of work. Fun work, but WORK. This documentary follows several people at different stages of modeling careers, and does interviews with industry professionals.

The Antics Roadshow
All right, warning. This documentary is made by British graffiti artist Banksy, and as such, it's somewhat rude and rather irreverent. It will very likely offend you if you consider yourself a more conservative type. But if you're willing to look past all that, it's a fun summary of the people who have made shocking artistic projects, streaked publicly, snuck into Buckingham Palace, and generally created chaos and counterculture. Which is fun.

The Pixar Story
When you learn the history of Pixar, it's really a miracle that any of it got off the ground at all. But their success has come from the fact that every single person who works there LOVES what they're doing. They care about stories, they're honest with each other, and they work their BUTTS off. John Lasseter spent his entire life wanting to work as an animator, and his passion for the art form is what drove him to create such amazing stories. There's some awesome footage and awesome interviews, and it's all incredibly inspiring to any creative person ever.

The Woman Who Wasn't There
This one kept popping up on my "recommended" list on Netflix, and I finally watched it. It's about a woman who basically conned the world into believing that she was in the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks. And she wasn't. It's a powerful story of deceit, and how and why people do these things, and how it affects those around them.

Becoming Chaz
This is a great and very personal look into the transgender experience. I've been trying to learn more about the transgender community during the last few years, and learning about Chaz Bono's transition from female to male helped me gain a lot of perspective. His transition was so public, and happened at a time when the entire concept of being transgender was still so incredibly understood...I'm really glad he chose to share his story. I think the world has a looooong way to go before gender dysphoria and transgenderism is seen with complete understanding, but stories like this help bring that day a little bit closer.

It seems like a lot of people are dismissive of asexuality--there's this attitude that it "doesn't exist." It's true that it's not a very common sexual orientation, partly because sexuality traits seem to be genetic, and asexual people tend to not reproduce as often. But it's a completely legitimate sexual orientation, and this documentary does a great job of shedding some light on it, highlighting a handful of individuals who experience it.

Dark Girls
This fascinating documentary goes beyond the concepts of "racism" to discuss "colorism"--attitudes about people based on their relative darkness or lightness. Colorism exists within the black community and outside of it. One of the most powerful ideas in the documentary is a point that an educator made. She pointed out that slavery existed in the United States before the United States even people were treated as animals in the 1600's. Then there was Emancipation without a plan. Slavery ended in 1863, but there was nothing in place to transition society into a non-slavery world. Freed slaves suddenly found themselves facing the same prejudice they had as slaves, except now they had to navigate housing, food, and work on their own as well. The Civil Rights Act was so recent that anyone over the age of 50 today lived during a time when black people had no rights or protections under the law. So in over 400 years of North American history, black people have only been given the right to VOTE, have only been treated legally as PEOPLE for 50 years. And you don't overcome 350 years of psychological damage, of racial "training," in one generation.

Unhung Hero
When Patrick Moote's girlfriend rejected his very public proposal, one of the reasons she gave for not wanting to marry him was that his penis was too small. So Patrick sets out on a journey to answer the question "Does size matter?" He travels the world in search of enlightenment and enlargement, and interviews a lot of people along the way. We as a society often point to the pressure that women feel to meet some sort of ideal body standard, but men have similar pressures, and in our oversexualized society, we should talk about how ridiculous those pressures are. (Warning: You probably already guessed this, but there is some nudity and discussion of sexuality. There is also a point when Patrick attends a pornography expo in search of answers.)

Indie Game
So beautiful. It actually made me cry. I'm so inspired by people who do what they love...who pursue their passions, no matter what. The video game industry often gets this false reputation--that video games are time-wasting activities played by only young children, or by the psychologically disturbed and violent, or by 35-year-old losers who live in their mom's basements. But it's so false. Video games have grown into a powerful art form that's often LITERARY and symbolic and meaningful. and that's especially true of games that are independently produced. This documentary celebrates that world, and follows the creation of two games: Super Meat Boy and Fez. It's an emotional journey, and whether you care about video games or not, if you're not inspired by this, you're probably a robot.

The Science of Babies
A good "laundry documentary." Babies are fascinating and bizarre creatures, and this is a cool look at some of the understanding we've gained about how their brains work, how and why their bodies develop the way they do, and the evolution behind it all. It's also occasionally super-stressful, because several times throughout the program, they explain some aspect of babyhood, and then say, "But there are times when it can all go WRONG" and then do some case study. Spoiler alert: everyone always ends up okay, but it's stressful to watch.

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