Tag Archive | documentary

Greatest Documentaries, Movies, And Series About Cannabis

stoner movies image
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Cannabis, weed, or whatever you call it, has been a part of popular culture and entertainment for centuries. A lot has been said about this plant; discover here what stands out from the rest when it comes to weed on the screen!

Making a Story

These stories have documented the rise of the cannabis industry from obscurity to legitimate business ventures through the CBD products that do not have THC – the psychotropic ingredient that gives the feeling of being high. The latest installments will have you considering the multiple benefits of starting a business with certified CBD hemp seed for sale and making it in the industry yourself.

The Business of Drugs (2020)

This documentary premiered on Netflix and exclusively speaks about the business side of the cannabis plant. It explores the opportunities that are available from the growing of the plant to the creation of high-tech by-products. A far cry from the Cheech & Chong type of production and narrative associated with cannabis. A great choice for those looking for a seriously in-depth look at what goes on behind the scenes of a weed business.

The Future of Weed: High Country (2013)

A production of journalism and reality content Vice, The Future of Weed: High Country gives us an inside peek into all the technology invested in making cannabis products. With a little bit of history and science sprinkled on, the documentary shows just how far the interest of the health industry, with its science, has impacted advancements and taken weed to another level. This one is for the tech-savvy people and those that want to look at the future of cannabis.

Pineapple Express Poster

Pineapple Express (2008)

An explosive, hilarious story of two unlikely friends, danger, and weed, starring James Franco and Seth Rogen. This unpredictable comedy was an immediate success, and stands out in weed films, for its action storyline and solid final results. Pineapple Express is one of those films that has you wondering where your weed limits are, so you don’t end up in the same trouble as the characters. Great for relaxing on the couch with some snacks, with a lot of laughs and excitement.

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The Greatest Sports Documentaries of All Time

the last dance netflix
Michael Jordan in The Last Dance

Settling down to watch an interesting, thought-provoking documentary is a way of learning something new. As you are probably held in quarantine right now, you might be missing sports, if you are a fan. Currently, everyone is buzzing on the recently launched Netflix documentary about Michael Jordan’s golden era, The Last Dance. However, if you are looking for similar documentaries to keep you entertained, we got you covered.

Even if you aren’t a particularly big fan of the following sports, you should find that these documentaries involving them make for great viewing.

Do You Believe in Miracles?

This 2001 documentary takes us back to the 1980 Winter Olympics. At the height of the Cold War, a young and inexperienced American ice hockey team took on the vastly experienced Russians for a crack at winning the gold medal. This inspirational story shows us footage from the legendary final from Lake Placid in New York. It became known as the Miracle on Ice and this documentary lets us see exactly what was so incredible and unexpected about the American comeback and eventual triumph.

Commentator Al Michaels shouting out “Do you believe in miracles?” as the crowd counts down the final seconds remains as one of the most thrilling moments in sport. It is one of the greatest underdog stories of all time.

A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story

You will find yourself engrossed in this riveting story of the golden age of motor racing. Argentine legend Juan Manuel Fangio was the main figures in the early years of Formula One, as he won five of the first ten championships. His record of five victories was only beaten almost half a century later, by Michael Schumacher. Fangio has the highest winning percentage in the history of the sport and is regarded as being arguably the greatest racing driver of all time. Yet, this documentary looks at more than just his triumphs on the track.

A Life of Speed is a misty-eyed look back at the days when the drivers were great friends and when the sport wasn’t so dominated by commercial interest. Originally broadcast in Spanish, A Life of Speed shows interviews with the likes of Fernando Alonso and Mika Hakkinen.

Hoop Dreams

Dating from 1994, this fascinating documentary shows us how basketball offers the hope of a brighter future to many players. It follows a pair of promising young players – William Gates and Arthur Agee – from inner-city Chicago who dream of becoming professionals in the NBA. It is about the hopes that these players have of reaching the top of their chosen sport. Hoop Dreams is also about the sacrifices that are needed to make a dream come true. The youngsters need to take a 90-minute commute to a new school to try and fulfill their potential.

Hoop Dreams was only meant to be a 30-minute short film, but filming was carried out over 8 years and it ended up as a 3-hour documentary that has enjoyed huge success around the planet. It is a story that can capture anyone’s interest, regardless of whether they understand NBA odds and statistics.

The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg

He may not be a household name now, but this 1998 documentary gives us an intriguing glimpse at the huge impact of Hank Greenberg in baseball and in sport in general. Hammerin’ Hank played in the MLB in the 1930s and 40s, mainly for the Detroit Tigers and also briefly for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

His spectacular statistics show us that Greenberg was one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He recorded a batting average of .300 in the 8 seasons he played as a pro and still holds the record for most runs batted in during a single season by a right-handed player. However, this documentary largely looks at the uphill struggle he faced to be accepted, due to the fact that he was Jewish. We can see how he was forced to ensure abuse on and off the field before going on to cement his reputation as one of baseball’s true legends.

Recommended Viewing: Rolling Stone, Life and Death of Brian Jones

Brian Jones Movie Poster By Gail Worley
All Photos By Gail Worley

Growing up with an older sister who came of age amid the fever pitch of Beatlemania, I received an excellent education in British rock starting at about the age of five. I knew the music of The Rolling Stones because their hits were all over the radio and, because he was the lead singer, I thought of them as “Mick Jagger’s band.”  For whatever reason, I don’t recall even hearing the name of the Stones‘ original guitarist and foundling member, Brian Jones, until I was in high school, which would have been in the late ’70s. At that time, I was completely obsessed with The Who.

One afternoon, I was pouring over an interview in Circus magazine with Who guitarist Pete Townshend, in which he cited Brian Jones as a key influence; not only on his playing, but on his personal image and sense of style. Townshend also mentioned having written and recorded a song called “A Normal Day for Brian, A Man Who Died Every Day” — the title based on an off-the-cuff quote he’d given to a reporter on hearing about Jones‘ untimely death in 1969. And I very distinctly remember pausing to think, Who the fuck is Brian Jones, because I had no clue. What I realized though is that if Pete Townshend — who was like a god to me — held him in such reverence that he wrote a song about him, then I need to do my homework. Sadly, the Internet did not exist in the seventies, so the life of Brian Jones remained a mystery to me beyond what I could glean from listening to his work with the Stones, which spans many studio albums including Their Satanic Majesty’s Request, which is a work of genius.

For decades Jones’ death at age 27 was ruled to be an accidental drowning: he was an admitted drug user, and there appeared to be no reason to suspect foul play. It took the 2005 biopic, Stoned (which features great performances and excessive nudity – two thumbs up) to explore an alternate version of Jones‘ demise, based on the deathbed confession of his (alleged) killer Frank Thorogood, who was employed as a builder at Jones‘ estate. Now, an exhaustive new documentary directed by Danny Garcia gives equal time to both Brian Jones‘ extraordinary life and his mysterious, controversial death.

Brian Jones Movie Invite By Gail Worley

Rolling Stone: Life and Death of Brian Jones, which I was fortunate to see at a NYC screening in late January, is a wildly engaging and meticulously researched documentary that I believe any music fan — whether or not they even know who Brian Jones‘ was  — would enjoy viewing. Pardon the pun, but while the surviving Rolling Stones declined to participate in the making of this film, no ‘stone’ was otherwise left un-turned by Garcia in his quest to paint a complete picture of a vastly talented and charismatic musician who remains a juggernaut of pop future influence four decades after his death.

Life and Death of Brian Jones tells its story through archival footage augmented by dozens of first-hand interviews with the people who knew Jones personally — his friends, family, and fellow musicians — so the viewer really gets to know what Brian was like as a person from childhood through adolescence and adulthood. We learn that Brian was musically gifted, headstrong and rebellious from an early age (he had fathered 3 illegitimate children by age 19!) as he grew into the original Bad Boy of Rock and Roll who set trends on and off the stage, and raised the bar very high for living a hedonistic lifestyle. It’s truly amazing how much he accomplished in his short life.

The film also dives deep into the circumstances and the aftermath of Brian’s apparent drowning, including various conspiracy theories and documented evidence, building a very compelling case that Jones did not suffer a death by misadventure but, rather, was murdered; and there are more than a few suspects. Equal parts nostalgia-inducing, pop culture time capsule and riveting true-crime procedural, Rolling Stone, Life and Death of Brian Jones, is a story that likely took as long as it did to tell because Danny Garcia — who specializes in making films about controversial music icons — was the only filmmaker who could do it justice. It’s a film that will haunt you, as you think on who Brian Jones was, and who he might have become had he lived.

Rolling Stone, Life and Death of Brian Jones, will receive a very limited, select-market run of theatrical screenings in April 2020 before the film’s release on DVD later that month. Check the website of your favorite local Art House theater to find out if it will be playing in your area, and watch the trailer below:

Michael Jackson Mural By Kobra

Kobra MJ Mural
All Photos By Gail

Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra continues to make the rounds in NYC, but this mural of Michael Jackson’s Face as both a child and an adult actually went up some time ago, in late August of 2018. I have walked by it a bunch of times and that orange food truck is always there, so it’s hard to get a clear shot.

Kobra MJ Close Up

Dead for nearly a decade at this point (as hard to believe as that is) Jackson continues to be a highly polarizing figure, especially in light of the just-aired HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, which most definitely lends considerable credence to the child abuse allegations of which Jackson was charged and then famously acquitted. It just makes me sad for everyone involved. I wonder how long it will be now before this mural is painted over.

Michael Jackson Mural By Kobra

Kobra MJ Mural Distance

The Michael Jackson Mural is painted on the side of an apartment building located at the Southeast corner First Avenue and East 11th Street in NYC.

Matt Johnson’s The The Reemerge With Comeback Tour and New Documentary!

Band On Stage In Shadow
The The Onstage at NYC’s Beacon Theater (All Photos By Gail)

Nostalgia doesn’t have to look a certain way. My first memory of nostalgia as a movement, or social phenomena, is from the 1980s, when the States experienced a massive wave of sentimentality for the pop culture of the 1950s. Suddenly, modern trends were pushed aside as the populace indulged a compulsion to revisit and appropriate the music, fashion and lifestyle of that era. It seemed like a big deal at the time, but as I get older I understand that the experience of nostalgia need not take place on such a grand scale. It can be drilled-down to keenly personal moments: a favorite scent, a photograph, or even a song can carry with it the power of full transportation to the past.

Nostalgia for ‘80s New Wave and Post-Punk Rock is big among many friends my age — especially those I met when we were all doing college radio together — because, when those songs were brand new, our immersion in the music scene was inseparable from the way we were living our lives. Music. Was. Everything. When I think about what my life was like in 1983, the year I graduated from college and was facing a litany of consequential life decisions, Soul Mining by the English band The The is the album that soundtracks those memories. I was 22 years old, and so was Matt Johnson, the singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and essential brain trust of The The.

The The Soul Mining CD Cover
Soul Mining CD Cover Signed By Matt Johnson

Comprised of eight all-killer-no-filler tracks, Soul Mining is a lyrically existential, aurally cinematic album that I would describe as a well-oiled juggernaut of emotional and sensory catharsis. While it can be interpreted as a loose concept album, two songs have always, for me at least, stood out from the pack. “This Is The Day” — arguably The The’s most famous song — employs Dylanesqe word economy as the song’s narrator welcomes a hard-reboot of a life looked-back-on with expansive disappointment. With its sublime wistfulness, “This Is The Day” manages to be both melancholy and inspiring simultaneously. It is also the only pop song I can name on which the lead instrument is the accordion. And then there’s “Uncertain Smile,” a song about an unrequited love affair whose pensive lyrics read like the bedsit rumination of a middle-aged loser, despite the fact that Matt Johnson wrote the song when he was just 19 years old. Those two songs are like a time machine for me: when I hear them, I can recall and visualize full chapters of my youth whose details would otherwise be unavailable to me. The power of music.

I admit I hadn’t listened to Soul Mining in (easily) twenty years when I got an email at the end of August announcing that Matt Johnson had put together a new line up of The The, and was embarking on a tour called The Comeback Special. The tour would coincide with screenings, in every US city on the itinerary, of an enigmatically-titled new documentary film, The Inertia Variations, of which Johnson is the subject. Somehow, I managed to score tickets to both events. The rest of this post is about the film, which I saw on a Saturday, and the concert, which I attended the following Monday.

Inertia Variations Poster
The Inertia Variations Movie Poster Photographed Outside of Theatre 80 in NYC

The Inertia Variations is not so much a documentary about The The’s music as it is an intimate expose — with a distinct home movie-vibe — of Matt Johnson and his 16-year hiatus from writing pop songs, recording new The The material, and touring. What was he doing all that time? You are about to find out. Filmmaker Johanna St. Michaels is Johnson’s ex-girlfriend, and the two have a now-grown son together. While freely admitting that they were pretty dysfunctional as a romantic couple, they have obviously become very close friends and behave like brother and sister around each other. The nature of their friendship was no doubt a huge factor in the finished film being not only quite candid and personal, but also full of warmth and humor, and absolutely rampant with moments of nostalgia-inducing heaviness.

Though the documentary, by nature, is unscripted, Johnson provides an inner-monologue voice-over throughout, which is culled from a book of poetry that gives the film its name, The Inertia Variations, in which poet John Tottenham muses on themes such as regret, procrastination and failure. That Johnson can add “gifted actor” to his laundry list of talents is apparent, as he makes Tottenham’s prose resonate as if the words were his own most confessional thoughts.

Much of the film’s central action involves a 12-hour live radio show — broadcast from Radio Cineola, a station based in Johnson’s home — which takes place during the most recent British election cycle. Johnson is clearly passionate about geopolitics and his desire to inform people about political events in a way that isn’t done on the news has become his prime motivator. Following a kind of live marathon format, the broadcast includes assorted musical guests performing live, and Matt taking calls from fans who have dialed-in from around the globe. It is really quite engaging.

What everyone really wants to know, of course, is when will he resurrect The The and make more music? Johnson admits he has no idea, because while he has been very successful writing music for films, as he has not been able to complete the lyrics to a pop song in over 12 years! His inertia is the symptom of a ridiculously prolonged battle with writer’s block: the muse for writing pop songs has utterly deserted him. Even more surprising, Matt reveals that he has not even sung a pop song in over a decade.

The Inertia Variations is also about familial relationships, death, loss and grief.  Johnson opens up at length about the death of his younger brother, Eugene, who passed unexpectedly in 1989 (it is never revealed how) at the age of 24. Eugene’s premature death inspired the song “Love is Stronger Than Death,” but Johnson’s grieving process also stunted the momentum of the band. Ten years on, his mother, who Johnson admits never fully recovered from Eugene’s death, passes away. Her death coincides with the writing and recording of the final The The album, NakedSelf, released in 2000.

Johnson’s eldest son, his father, and one of his two surviving brothers, artist Andrew Johnson (who designed album covers for The The, among other bands) also appear in the film.  Andrew and Matt are shown in the process of collaborating on a book, which will include Andrew’s illustrations. Tragically, Andrew is diagnosed with brain cancer and dies, during the making of the film, in January of 2016. It is Andrew’s death that provides the catalyst for Matt to finally pen lyrics, inspired by and dedicted to his brother’s memory, and set them to music, for a song he titles “You Can’t Stop What’s Coming.” If that title isn’t golden, I don’t know what is.

At the film’s end, there isn’t a dry eye in the room as Johnson performs the song (marking his first public performance in 15 years), in his home studio for family and friends. “You Can’t Stop What’s Coming” is as amazing a song as any classic in The The discography, and Johnson’s voice sounds like no time has passed at all since he was in peak performance mode. The Inertia Variations is a remarkable work of filmmaking, giving the artist personal closure, while also providing a platform from which to launch the next chapter in his life, which is the Comeback Special Tour. The Inertia Variations should be available for home streaming at some point in the near future. (You can get a sneak peak by watching the trailer at the end of this post!)

The New York screening was followed by a Q&A with Johnson, St. Michaels and musician James Eller, who is the bassist and musical director for The The’s current line-up. This session was lots of fun, as the relatively intimate gathering included many diehard fans whose lives have been profoundly affected by Matt Johnson’s music. Some audience members had traveled not only from cities within reasonable driving distances from Manhattan, such as Stamford and Boston, but from as far away as Northern Ireland and Mexico to attend one of the shows, see the film, and have a rare opportunity to meet Matt — who stuck around to sign and take photos — in person. My favorite question came from one fan who spent a few minutes heaping the praise on Soul Mining before asking Johnson if that was his favorite The The album. Hilariously, he admitted that not only is Soul Mining not his favorite album, but in fact he doesn’t think of  it much, because he was 21 when he made the album and he is a different person now. I’m not sure people were ready to hear that, but at least he was honest.

Now, let’s go to the show!

Beacon Theater Maquee Front Only

Behold: The Beacon Theatre Marquee, Above, and My Ticket, Below!

The The Ticket Stub

I really loved the movie, and with a couple of days to digest it and come down off the little cloud I was on from having Matt ask me my name before signing my copy of Soul Mining, I felt like it was a good primer for the show at NYC’s fabulous Beacon Theatre. The The’s full band lineup for the live shows features a member from each of the three previous The The world tours: James Eller on bass (representing the Versus The World tour), DC Collard on keyboards (representing the Lonely Planet tour) and Earl Harvin on drums (representing the Naked tour). They are joined by seasoned touring and session guitarist Barrie Cadogan, who was recommend to Johnson by Johnny Marr, and whose eponymous band Little Barrie wrote the song that’s used as the Theme from Better Call Saul! As an aside, Little Barrie is one of my top two favorite bands!

Band On Stage In Shadow
The The Take The Stage

Johnson has stated that for this tour, he wanted to strip-down many of the songs and reduce the sonic palette, so the band wouldn’t be using any samplers, click-tracks, sequencers or synthesizers. It would just be five musicians, performing reinterpretations of The The’s back catalogue. He also announced to the crowd that, since the band were limiting their use of electronics, he would really appreciate it if the audience did the same and put their phones away.

Matt With Gold Backdrop
Drummer Earl Harvin and Matt

I was happy to comply, so all of my photos were taken on a point-and-shoot camera from halfway back on the floor. While they are not great, at least you can get a feel for what it looked like inside the Beacon that evening.

Band On Stage

“The songs are not intended to be reproductions of the album versions, and many of them don’t sound like they do on the old recordings. Some of the songs do, but if people really want to hear the albums, they should just put on headphones and listen to the albums.” — Matt Johnson

Band On Stage

Matt has also stated, on The The’s newly resurrected website, that they have intentionally limited the amount of sounds at their disposal, so the band has to work a bit harder since they can’t rely on recreating the exact sounds from the album (for example, there were no accordions on stage), and decisions are therefore based on creating new arrangements. What is most important is that the emotional force of the songs continues to shine through. In this way, favorite songs (which to my ears were still highly recognizable) felt less like cliched ’80s signifiers, and more like tools being used to excavate emotions from the past. The band was so tight, Matt’s vocals were ridiculously on-point, and the entire set was perfect.

Enthusiastic Audience Member
Somebody Got Excited

Matt with Keyboard Player
Matt and Keyboardist DJ Collard

Matt With Guitar

Audiovisual collage artist Vicki Bennett (aka People Like Us), created the kaleidoscopic video installation for the tour, and backdrop visuals also included page after page of pen and ink drawings from Andrew Johnson’s sketch book, which I recognized from having seen them in The Inertia Variations.

Matt and Barrie
Matt and Barrie Cadogan

The band’s much-anticipated performance of “This Is The Day” was all the more emotionally charged when coupled with the official video for that song (from 1984), which appeared behind the band in sync with Matt’s vocals. Most people probably don’t realize that both of Johnson’s parents and all three of his brothers appear in that video. At the very end of the song, his family members appear one at a time to mouth the line, “This is the day” before fading into the next frame.  With both of his parents now gone (Johnson’s father passed away this summer) and two of his brothers also deceased, an already deeply powerful song served as a symbolic family requiem. There were some wet eyes during that song, and two of them were mine.

The The Setlist for the Comeback Special Tour at Beacon Theatre, New York City

1. Global Eyes
2. Sweet Bird of Truth
3. Flesh and Bones
4. Heartland
5. The Beat(en) Generation
6. Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)
7. We Can’t Stop What’s Coming
8. Beyond Love
9. Love Is Stronger Than Death
10. Dogs of Lust
11. Helpline Operator
12. This Is the Night
13. This Is the Day
14. Soul Catcher
15. Bugle Boy
16. Slow Emotion Replay
17. I Saw the Light (Hank Williams cover)
18. Like a Sun Risin Thru My Garden
19. Infected
20. I’ve Been Waitin’ for Tomorrow (All of My Life)

Encore:
21. True Happiness This Way Lies
22. Uncertain Smile
23. Lonely Planet

Check Out the Trailer for The Inertia Variations Below!

James and Matt
James Eller and Matt Johnson

Pink Thing of The Day: Pink Transistor Radio

Pink Transistor Radio
All Photos By Gail

In the 1986 documentary The Unheard Music, filmmaker W.T Morgan brilliantly captured the Los Angeles Punk Scene using the band X as a focal point. This Pink Handheld Radio was featured in the film and included on the promotional items in support of the documentary

Pink Transistor Radio

Pink Transistor Radio was Photographed as Part of the Exhibit  X: 40 Years of Punk in Los Angeles at the Grammy Museum in Hollywood, California.

Carmen Herrera, Lines of Sight at The Whitney Museum

Installation Sculptures 2
Installation View (All Photos By Gail)

Most of the better-known artists of the Geometric Abstraction school of art — such as Josef Albers, Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, and Frank Stella — are men; but that doesn’t mean there were no equally talented  women artists working alongside these giants, just because we don’t know about them.

Red Orange Yellow

One such artist is the Cuban-American painter Carmen Herrera, who, at 101 years of age, is likely the oldest working professional artist in America. Right now, you can see a collection of Herrera’s work spanning three decades at the Whitney Museum, and it is pretty sweet. Carmen Herrara: Lines of Sight is the first museum exhibition of this groundbreaking artist in New York City in nearly two decades. Focusing on the years 1948 to 1978, the period during which Herrera developed her signature style, the show features more than fifty works, including paintings, three-dimensional works, and works on paper.

Yellow and Blue

Installation View

Lines of Sight begins with the formative period following World War II, when Herrera lived in Paris and experimented with different modes of abstraction before establishing the visual language that she would explore with great nuance for the succeeding five decades. Many of these works have never been displayed before in a museum.

Pink Black and White

Black and White Green

Blanco Y Verde
Blanco Y Verde (White and Green) Installation View

The second section of the show is an unprecedented gathering of works from what Herrera considers her most important series, Blanco y Verde (1959–1971). Nine paintings from this series illustrate the highly innovative way in which Herrera conceptualized her paintings as objects, using the physical structure of the canvas as a compositional tool and integrating the surrounding environment.

Green and White

Estructuras

With work dating from approximately 1962 to 1978, the final section illuminates Herrera’s continued experimentation with figure/ground relationships and highlights the architectural underpinnings of many of her compositions. This section includes four wooden sculptures — Herrera’s “estructuras”— as well as her brilliant Days of the Week, a series of seven vivid paintings.

Estructuras

For those who can’t make it to New York to see Lines of Sight in person, you can check out a new documentary, The 100 Years Show — which celebrates Herrera’s career  chronicles her preparation for the Whitney exhibit — which is currently streaming on Netflix.

Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight will be on Exhibit Through January 9th, 2017, at The Whitney Museum, Located at 99 Gansevoort Street, in Manhattan.

Installation Sculptures

Recommended Viewing: We Are X, The Death and Life of X Japan

We Are X Movie Poster
Above Image Courtesy of We Are X Film Dot Com. All Other Photos By Gail

When the most popular heavy metal band in Japan came to New York in October of 2014 to play a show at Madison Square Garden, they managed to sell out the legendary arena, despite being virtually unknown in America. X (known stateside as X Japan), got their start in the 1980s as a glam metal band, doing their best to shock audiences with their outrageous stage show and equally over-the-top, gender-bending physical appearances that included flamboyant rock fashions, wildly theatrical hairstyles and Kabuki-esque make-up. But what critics who initially dismissed the band as all style and no substance didn’t realize was that these guys could play their asses off, and were selling the type of rebellious image that repressed Japanese audiences couldn’t wait to buy. Now, an award-winning documentary, We Are X,  aims to bring the myth and enigma that is X Japan into your consciousness.

X Japan Concert Ad

Critics say that the mark of a good documentary is when its story is accessible to, and can be fully enjoyed by, audiences who are completely unfamiliar with its subject matter. Using the career-milestone Madison Square Garden concert as a jumping off point, and circling back to that show (which I attended) at the film’s end, Director Stephen Kijak (Stones in Exile, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man) has succeeded wildly at crafting a career-spanning Rock & Roll fable that will surely hook those who’ve never even heard of X Japan right from its opening credits.

Yoshiki at MSG
Yoshiki on Stage at MSG

Told primarily from the viewpoint of founding member Yoshiki; X Japan’s drummer, composer and charismatic leader, We Are X is both the story of the band’s groundbreaking 30-year career, and also the life story of Yoshiki, who turned to music as a child as a means to cope with the suicide of his father. Forming X as a teenager with school friend Toshi, who became the band’s lead singer, Yoshiki was driven to succeed by existential questions that haunted him from his father’s death; namely “What is my purpose?” and “why am I here?”

Yoshiki and Stephen Kijak
Yoshiki and Stephen Kijak Discuss the Film at a Post-Screening Q&A Here in NYC

Embracing a ‘Do or Die’ sensibility, X Japan became not just an innovative and successful rock band, but a cultural force as powerfully influential as that created by The Beatles decades before them. Not only have they achieved phenomenal record sales and concert attendances, but band members’ personal brands are associated with products as diverse as credit cards, wine, comic book superhero alter egos, and dolls made in their own likenesses. X Japan is also credited with spearheading the uniquely Japanese Visual Kei movement.

X at MSG
X Japan on Stage at MSG

The band’s great successes, however, were tempered with equally great tragedies. As a counterpoint to the celebratory  moments, the film carefully explores the suicides of two seminal band members, Hide (in 1998) and Taiji (in 2011), which shattered the lives of both X Japan’s surviving members, and devastated their fans, one of whom was driven to suicide because of the news. We Are X is a true life Rock & Roll story that really has everything.

Yoshiki and Toshi
Yoshiki and Toshi Rocking It Back in the Day!

Despite the intense personal/personnel drama, career challenges and many heart-rending moments, We Are X is also good fun, and thoroughly entertaining. One of my favorite parts happens towards the film’s end, when Yoshiki and Toshi are reunited in 2007, ten years after the singer abandoned X Japan to join a mind-controlling cult. Yoshiki recalls hanging out at the Palladium in Hollywood, where the friends were approached by two guys looking to buy drugs. One of the men asked the duo if they knew where they could score some X (meaning the psychedelic drug, Ecstasy). Yoshiki, whose grasp of the English language is obviously much  better now than it was back then, laughs when he recalls replying to the guy, with complete sincerity, “We are X!” Hilarious.

We Are X opens in theaters nationwide on Friday October 21st, 2016.

Grade: A+

X at MSG
X Japan On Stage at Madison Square Garden, October 2014

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Exclusive Video: Yoshiki of X Japan Plays Swan Lake

Yoshki Plays Swan Lake
Yoshiki at the Crosby Street Hotel in NYC (All Photos and Video By Gail)

A couple of weeks ago, I attended an intimate press screening and party for the upcoming theatrical release of the award-winning documentary, We Are X, which explores the amazing history of Japanese rock band X (known as X Japan in the US), focusing on the group’s charismatic drummer and founder, Yoshiki Hayashi. The documentary is just fantastic, and you can read my review on this site closer to the film’s release date in late October!

Yoshiki was present at the screening, and sat with director Stephen Kijak (Scott Walker: 30 Century Man) for a Q and A about the film before treating press and fans in attendance to a brief piano performance, featuring both original compositions and some of his favorite classical pieces.

In the above video, Yoshiki is concluding one of his own compositions before segueing into a passage from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Please Enjoy!

Yoshki of X Japan

Yoshiki will be playing two nights with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in January 2017. Visit This Link for tickets and more information!

Recommended Viewing: Author: The JT LeRoy Story

JT Leroy Story Movie Poster
All Images Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

If you enjoy the slow reveal of a real-life mystery that unfolds with greater intrigue and a higher ‘WTF’ factor than the most oblique, multi-layered David Fincher script, then Author: The JT LeRoy Story is your wet dream of a documentary film. Author is the true story of wunderkind picaresque novelist JT LeRoy and the elaborate machinations behind the facade that disguised the Literary Hoax of the Century. Because, despite being one of the most popular and critically lauded writers of an entire decade (1996 to 2006), JT LeRoy never existed: he was merely an elaborate persona created by author Laura Albert  to take credit for stories she wrote from the perspective of an emotionally and psychologically traumatize teenage boy. When the JT LeRoy books reached a level of mega-success that required LeRoy to do press and make personal appearances, Albert got to work on fabricating one of the most brilliant and convoluted schemes ever conceived in the mind of someone who was hiding behind a pretty hefty stack of neuroses.

JT and Laura
Savannah Knoop as JT LeRoy, with Laura Albert as Speedy

Backed into a corner, Albert, with assistance from her husband Greg Knoop and sister-in-law Savannah Knoop, created a physical world that JT LeRoy could move around in, with Savannah portraying JT in public (Albert had already been impersonating him on the phone for years)  and Greg playing the part of JT’s lover/roommate, Asher. Albert took on the role of JT’s handler/sidekick, the British-accented ‘Speedy‘ (Albert is American). Together, the trio fooled everyone.

JT and Bono
JT and Bono

What makes Author: The JT LeRoy story such a complete success is that you don’t need to know anything about the backstory coming into it, to become thoroughly transported into the world of Laura Albert’s dual realities, and to stay engaged and outraged as those world’s fall apart over the course of two hours.  This film is just amazing on so many levels. There’s no doubt that Albert is, well, crazy; but that doesn’t make her any less of a creative genius. The lengths that Albert and her family went to to keep the JT LeRoy ruse alive, and the degree to which dozens — if not hundreds — of huge celebrities were either authentically duped, or, like Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan, were just playing along is nothing short of mind blowing.

JT Michael Pitt Gus Van Sant
Actor Michael Pitt, JT and Film Director Gus Van Sant

Currently, Author: The JT LeRoy Story is tied with Wiener as the best documentary I’ve seen so far this year.

The Worley Gig Gives Author: The JT LeRoy Story Five out of Five Stars!

Author: The JT LeRoy Story Hits Theaters on September 9th, 2016 and will be Showing in NYC at both the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Theatre. Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, the Film has a Running Time of 110 Minutes. Watch the Trailer Below!