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Jim Schembri’s streaming tips and Sanjay Rawal interview. Thu 09 Apr, 2020

Jim Schembri

MORE STREAMING TIPS FOR YOUR EXTENDED STAYCATION

 

TIGER KING: Murder, Mayhem and Madness **** (311 minutes; seven episodes) MA

It’s the show everyone is talking about – and for good reason. In another case of truth being stranger than fiction, Tiger King is a rare example of a much-touted piece of entertainment that actually exceeds the hype, and then some.

Set in the odder-than-odd southern American netherworld where the trading, ownership, preservation and exploitation of wild cats is a big, viciously competitive business, the series focuses on the singular character of Joe Exotic, a hillbilly caricature whose braggadocio and lust for attention is matched by a fiery, dark underside.

Joe is a ferociously proud gay good ol’ boy who runs a private zoo where lions, tigers and other assorted beasts of the veldt are on display for the public to see, touch and, if you’re rich enough, buy.

He loves his cats, his business, his redneck credentials and his social media. But there’s one thing that pushes his over-the-top, ego-maniacal soul over the edge, and that’s a woman called  Carole Baskin.

She’s also a big cat lover, only she hates the idea of people being allowed to own them. As an animal rights warrior her outfit Big Cat Rescue targets Joe as an enemy to wild life. She wants the law changed and for Joe to be shut down.

As you’d expect, Joe explodes with outrage, unleashing a hatred for her that is without relent. He’s happy to deride and defame her online, making no secret of his desire to blow her head off with the loaded six-shooter permanently strapped to his hip.

The bitter rivalry that drives the Tiger King saga is inflamed by Joe’s belief that Carole was behind the disappearance of her husband Don Lewis, and that Joe supposedly had elaborate plans to have Carole killed. But is all the evidence suggesting this is real, or is he being framed by other adversaries?

As the narrative unfolds like a giant Catherine wheel we get copious interviews with Joe’s staff and personality profiles of some other big cat keepers, one of whom runs his zoo with the aid of a harem of attractive women.

The sprawling scenario of Tiger King might sound like tabloid true crime fodder writ large, yet director Eric Goode is wise enough to let the story’s many excesses speak for themselves without embellishing them with bells and whistles. For all the yelling, the style of Tiger King is actually quite tempered.

As a crime documentary series Tiger King grabs your attention from the get-go and keeps you hooked with its constant refreshing of information, facts and conspiracy theories, some of which you’d dismiss as crazy were it not for the assurance that it’s all true, more or less.

An unhappy Carole Baskin has gone on record about being treated unfairly regarding the disappearance of her husband, which is fair enough given that she’s never been charged with anything.

And the story is still unfolding; there is word of another episode to come and Universal is apparently hot to make a mini-series based on the show.

A full day’s worth of rollicking entertainment, this is. And for those keen to read into all the goings on, consider Tiger King a macabre example of the excesses of entrepreneurship and how revenge accounts for such a big slice of the American psyche. (Netflix)

 

ASTRONAUT *** (98 minutes) PG

A typically charismatic central performance from Richard Dreyfuss adds zest to a modest, sweet-natured family film about old age and responsible civil engineering.

Dreyfuss plays the widowed Angus, a lively but lonely senior citizen in his 70s, living with his loving daughter Molly (Krista Bridges), her husband Jim (Lyriq Bent) and their hyper-active son Barney (Richie Lawrence, putting in a nice turn as a kid infatuated with his grandfather).

Financial stress forces the couple to move Angus to a retirement home populated with a pleasantly crusty collection of senior citizens who, like Angus, would rather not be there.

Restless and loathe to be considered just another old person tossed upon the human scrap heap, Angus follows his grandson’s advice and enters a TV lottery competition to win a seat on a brand new space shuttle, even if it means lying about his age.

Luck falls his way, of course, and he goes off to be trained with the 11 other candidates, but things don’t quite go as planned when his true age and the infirmities that come with it catch up with him.

Dreyfuss, who also produced the film, has a delightful spring in his step throughout this pleasant outing, especially when confronting the billionaire behind the project over how the tarmac on the special runway might not be up to scratch.

There’s a couple of neatly etched B-stories also, one regarding Jim’s job, the other involving the assets left by Angus’s wife.

(Apple TV; Fetch TV; Foxtel Store; Google Play; YouTube.)

 

3100: RUN & BECOME *** (80 minutes) G

Each year in Queens, New York a gaggle of supremely dedicated joggers run around a half-mile suburban block over and over and over. Their goal: to be the first to clock up 3100 miles, completing a required minimum of 60 miles per day for 52 days.

It might sound like recreational jogging taken to ludicrous extremes – and from what we see of the strain and toil involved, it arguably is – but it’s the fortitude and devotion of the participants that so impresses director Sanjay Rawal (himself a dedicated runner).

This urban ritual forms the centrepiece of a serious, insightful exploration into the beyond-fitness motives of why people run.

Rawal brings in three other events: a Navajo man’s cross-desert run in tribute to his father; the loss of a hunting culture inflicted on a tribe of Kalahari bushmen; and the practice of a very peculiar breed of Buddhist monks in Japan who have to circle a mountain for thousands of miles in search of spiritual enlightenment.

Should they wear out before the task is completed they are honour-bound to do themselves in. The track is apparently dotted with the graves of such failures.

As a non-athletic look at long-distance running the film delves into the realm of self-help and personal transformation, with an implicit side-message about the importance of knowing your limits, both physical and mental.

There is perhaps a little too much emphasis on the 3100 race, but the film is well paced and very well-photographed.

The film is now streaming on Google Play, iTunes, Amazon and Amazon Prime.

The film was to have been released in cinemas on 30 March, but the shutdown caused by the Coronavirus took care of that.

It also put the kibosh on Sanjay Rawal’s planned tour of Australia, during which he was going to attend several post-screening Q&A sessions of the film in Melbourne, Perth, Bunbury, Sydney and Canberra. It would have been the perfect opportunity to speak with him.

But as the old saying goes: “Never let a global pandemic get in the way of a good interview.”

So in the middle of a very quiet, locked-down New York Sanjay Rawal was kind enough to make himself available via Skype.

Kindly excuse the ordinary quality of the vision, which is a little scratchy due to so many New Yorkers using the internet on the night we spoke. The audio, however, is very clear.

Please enjoy.

THE MINDFULNESS MOVEMENT **1/2 (97 minutes)

Anything that claims to relieve stress, anxiety and an easily distracted mind is always going to find favour fast, which no doubt accounts for why the practice of “mindfulness” has gained so much traction so quickly.

Conceived as an antidote to the type of frantic FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out – lifestyle engendered by the digital devices that run, rather than help run, our harried lives, mindfulness is embraced by millions – including good advice goddess Oprah Winfrey – as a way of introducing tranquility and control into the daily grind.

The Mindfulness Movement, directed by veteran TV producer Rob Beemer, is essentially a nicely filmed collection of invariably enthusiastic testimonials about the effectiveness of the exercises, breathing techniques and meditative practices involved in this sit-on-the-floor method of making life better.

Those who are either into mindfulness or are eager to get into it will no doubt find this film an informative prep kit of uplifting anecdotes and inspirational interviews.

Still, the film plays like an extended commercial. It could well have done with more rigourous inquiry into mindfulness culture as well as a dose of healthy skepticism, such as the notion that mindfulness is just a New Age version of The Power of Positive Thinking, published way back in 1952.

What the film certainly should have done without is the terrible infomercial music that plays under most of the interviews. The insipid music sounds like it was inspired by the backing tracks to those old ads about the Church of Scientology. Urgh.

Still, it’s hard to remain totally skeptical given the long list of endorsements from returned soldiers, former drug addicts, ordinary people, prisoners and even the singer Jewel, a huge mindfulness advocate who swears it changed her derailed life. She helped produce the film with alternative medicine maestro Deepak Chopra, who also appears in the film.

Apart from its standard menu of selling points – hey, all credit to anything that makes prisons easier to control – mindfulness is no doubt enjoying a huge boost at the minute as people search for something to engage them while being stuck in Coronavirus confinement.

The film’s plan for a major US tour during April was, of course, cancelled because of the Coronavirus. It is, nonetheless, available for streaming at themindfulnessmovement.com

Jim Schembri
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