Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Discussion Thread: Celebrity Wife Swap

Kate with swap places with Kendra Wilkinson, tonight at 8 EST on ABC. Also this morning, Kate will be a guest on The View. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Oscar Round-up

Searching for Sugarman for the win

Practically the only good "reality T.V." left these days comes in the form of documentaries, and five of the best are up for Best Documentary Feature on Sunday night at the Oscars. Many are available on demand streaming if you want to check them out yourself in time for the show. Here's our mini reviews and our pick for the winner.

The Gatekeepers. (coming soon on Netflix) Former members of Israel's counter-terrorism forces discuss various defensive efforts through the decades. The documentary is heavy on talking heads but the history is engrossing. 

The Oscars, Sun. on ABC
How to Survive a Plague (Netflix streaming, Amazon) and The Invisible War (Netflix streamingAmazonare both about controversial issues, AIDS activism, and women assaulted in the military. Both films tackle highly charged subjects with sensitivity and insight. The Invisible War in particular is difficult to watch, though important. 

Plague is not only a comprehensive history of AIDs activism in the 80's and 90's, but also a study of the psychology behind large social change--where ACT UP went right, where they went wrong, and why people who all basically had the same righteous goal just couldn't get along with each other. Some of the old footage the film digs up is engrossing, especially the ashes spread on the White House lawn, and a highly charged moment where a young Bill Clinton takes an activist to task for his personal attacks, scolding him for distracting from the real goal. Never debate a Rhodes scholar, the activist jokes afterward. Thirty years later the film tracks down the most famous of the activists, many who are still alive. The "goodness" and "humanity" the activists showed the world is "mind boggling," reflects one today. If Sugarman doesn't win, Plague should.

5 Broken Cameras  (Netflix streamingAmazon) offers an unique perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, shot by an average Palestinian citizen who bought a camera to film his new son, but ended up turning the lens on the streets of his home turf. As the conflict escalates, his cameras become damaged one by one. Hence the title. Without a good understanding of this part of the world, Cameras can get confusing at times, and be forewarned, there's subtitles to follow as well.

Our pick for the winner: Searching for Sugarman.  (NetflixAmazonWhat if you were famous and didn't even know it? We want Sugarman to get the trophy tonight, and finally get the recognition stolen from him for so long, and apparently so do many other Oscar predictors. 

The compelling aspect of this film is the South African fans who catapulted a gifted but obscure American artist into stardom. The reason why it should win stems from the fans themselves. Fans can go very, very wrong sometimes. But other times, they can be your savior. Sugarman's fans are not creepy, nosey, dim-witted or overbearing. Rather they are grounded, intelligent, successful men and women who in their youth were going through unspeakable upheaval in their country, and found their voice in Sugarman's music (One of his songs asks, "I wonder, will this hatred ever end?"). It was the fans who decades ago recognized the brilliance of Sugarman, made him a sensation, and then didn't rest until they got answers about what really happened to the man who saw them through such great change during Apartheid. The outpouring of love and respect for one very talented (yet unappreciated in the U.S.) artist, will move you. And wait until you hear what the humble Rodriguez himself has to say all these years later. (On a side note, the injustice of what happened to Rodriguez's well-deserved royalties when he was a superstar, and the meager way he had to live and raise his daughters for decades for never receiving any checks, will make your blood boil. Although South African fans had no choice because his albums weren't available in any other form but a bootleg copy, Sugarman is a living breathing example of why pirating music is so wrong.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The rights of the deceased

Producers decide to air slain cast member's reality show just days after her death, and it's not the first time.

What if you die before your reality show airs? Is it right for networks to still air it or should they pull it out of respect? Two years ago, Bravo also aired episodes post-mortem featuring Russell Armstrong, who had committed suicide. His family was horrified, especially when Bravo at first repeatedly promised to re-edit the show. Russell's death was linked by some family members to the pressure of the show, at one point his mother saying that he once told her, "Mom, they're just going to crucify me this season. I don't know what to do. I'll never survive it."

Now, it's happening again, after Reeva Steenkamp was shot and killed. Her boyfriend, the famous "Blade Runner," was charged with the crime. Steenkamp had wrapped a reality show shortly before her death, which aired this past weekend. 

South African producers have come under fire from viewers who say it's disrespectful to air the show and they are just profiting off her death. However producers claim they consulted with her family about the decision. They said“We felt that it was important for people to know that there was more to the narrative of Reeva than an exceptionally beautiful girl in a bikini, that she was strong and vibrant and funny and lovely and that this is a tragedy on an unspeakable level.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

ABC officially announces Kate on 'Wife Swap'

After months of rumors, it's official. Kate will swap places with Kendra Wilkinson on the premiere of Celebrity Wife Swap, February 26th. The poor Gosselin kids. And poor Hank Jr.!


Thursday, February 7, 2013

"I'm supposed to teach them life"

Five documentaries about education not to be missed

With so many of us snowed in or on lockdown, we thought it would be a great time to highlight some absorbing documentaries to keep you warm! 

The educational system documentary. Despite all the bad press about schools today, many filmmakers have been steadfastly creating documentaries that highlight some of the most compelling stories out of our schools and from our remarkable teachers and kids. Some of these films may shock you, others move you to tears. All of them will give you hope.

Here are our top five favorites: 

5. The Great Cafeteria Takeover. 

A group of teens and pre-teens post-Katrina dismayed at the appalling quality of cafeteria food sets out to actually change it. (HBO.)

4. Spellbound

Follow super-spellers as they spend every waking moment preparing obsessively for the 1999 National Spelling Bee. Oddly as tense as any thriller, you will agonize over every letter right along with them.  (Netflix, Amazon.)

3. American Teacher 

Profiling four extraordinary teachers as they give everything of themselves for very little pay or accolades to educate our kids. (streaming Netflix, Amazon.)

2. Pressure Cooker

Coming in at a very close second place is Pressure Cooker, about a no nonsense culinary arts teacher, Wilma Stephenson, who pushes inner city Philadelphia high schoolers to cook their butts off. It pays off when they routinely win competitions and scholarships (her class has won over half a million in scholarships since she started the program). She makes no bones about calling her students "ghetto" when they are not performing up to par, while in the next breath telling them she loves them. And, you soon realize, she truly does. It's heartwarming to see kids learn far more about themselves and their own capabilities than they ever do about soufflĂ©, thanks to one teacher who doesn't settle for "just good enough." (streaming Netflix, Amazon.)

1. To Be and to Have

Perhaps the opposite of Wilma Stephenson and her tough love, soft spoken French teacher Georges Lopez is gentle, patient and kind. He guides his one-room schoolhouse of all ages through lessons on penmanship, omelet flipping, and working together in harmony. In one particularly moving scene, he brings a stoic school bully to silent tears as he talks to him calmly about how his words and actions are hurting others. We find out some time later, the boy's father is in a serious battle with cancer.  But, that's no excuse for Lopez. "Sickness is a part of life," Lopez tells him as they chat together under a tree. His simple words somehow seem to bring the child comfort.

In nearly every conversation he has with his students, he asks for their thoughts and opinions on the matter, and the children show him tremendous respect in return. When he asks his younger students what they want to be when they grow up, not surprisingly, many of them say teachers. Aptly dubbed by some viewers as a "Hymn to Teaching," this gradual unfolding of a year in the life of one very special educator and his class is an absolute work of art. (The only sad part about the film, is that due to the unexpected massive success of the film, Lopez said he and his students felt exploited, and that fame traumatized some of his students.)  (Netflix, Amazon.)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Terms of Resentment

Anna Nicole Smith's 6-year-old gets a modeling contract with Guess, meanwhile Hollywood icon Shirley MacLaine's daughter is all grown now and says her childhood was pretty screwed up thanks to her mother's selfishness and neglect.

This week's 20/20 had some fascinating stories on famous children, including a pint-sized first grader who is the offspring of the most famous blond since Marilyn Monroe, and a Hollywood icon's daughter who is finally spilling the nasty, shocking dirt. Once again, another celebrity child says it's not all as it seemed. 

Dannielynn Birkhead

Larry Birkhead is a surprisingly tender and attentive single father, braiding his little girl's hair, helping her pick out pretty dresses, and kissing her goodbye before school. But did he make a huge misstep letting Dannielynn model for Guess? Birkhead said he did it so Dannielynn could do something "with" her mom, who was also a Guess model, and that every cent is being saved for her. Birkhead says little Dannielynn always asks about her mom, who died when she was a baby.

Sachi Parker

Holy what the hay?! Shirley MacLaine's daughter is throwing her under the bus big time in her new book, where she says that MacLaine was neglectful and detached and rarely around when she was growing up. No, say it ain't so! Not Cora's American mum!  According to one of Parker's many appalling tales, Shirley once put 2-year-old Sachi on an airplane to Japan to go see her father. By herself. Ugh.