A freelance writer and copywriter for over fifteen years, Helene has written for publications and brands all over the world and couldn’t imagine herself in any other job. A shameless film freak, her first onscreen experience involved a trip to Avondale’s Hollywood Theatre at the age of five to see Yul Brynner in The Ultimate Warrior and she hasn’t looked back since. A big fan of documentaries, she has interviewed subjects as diverse as Henry Rollins, Jimmy Choo and Beyonce Knowles, and also has her own beauty blog - which can be found at www.mshelene.com - for the purpose of raving about red lipstick, big hair and other essential indulgences.

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THE SOURCE FAMILY and the rise of Father Yod

Posted on Thursday 18/08/2016 August, 2016 by

It's 1971, the world is looking pretty goddamn messy and new religions are on the rise. You’re young, American, curious and feeling disenfranchised, so the thought of finding your place in a new, enlightened community is pretty attractive.

This is where the Source Family came in, and where not long after their inception, they began to thrive. A true spiritual collective - a cult, if you will - of what ended up being about 140 members, they were a new age dream. Most of them were under 30 and good looking, they ate raw food and home-schooled their home-born children; they dressed in floaty robes and made “right on” sounds with their house band. At their head was Father Yod - a hairy individual who cruised around Los Angeles in a sweet Rolls Royce, was keen on “nice things” for the “life trip” and believed that money was “magical green energy that will produce anything for you instantly.” It was a winning formula for kids looking for an escape route, and they flocked to hear his every word.

 

The controversial restaurateur-turned-spiritual leader with thirteen wives and his own psychedelic rock band led his family through a life of enlightenment and hedonism that included 4 a.m. meditation sessions invigorated by “Sacred Herb”, sex magic and psychedelic jam sessions resulting in some very collectible records. His family of followers lived in a mansion and helped operate a popular restaurant on the Sunset Strip, serving vegetarian cuisine to musicians and movie stars, pioneering a national trend. For a while there he and his crew were on a winning streak, and reaped the benefits.


Before he was Father Yod however, he was Jim Baker, a judo master and decorated Marine. In the early 1950s, he reportedly abandoned his first family to ride to Hollywood on a motorcycle and audition for the role of Tarzan. He didn’t get the part, but he did eventually kill a man (in self-defense) with judo, then kill a man (again in self-defense) with judo and a gun; marry and eventually leave a second wife, cure a Samoan chief’s daughter through dietary remedies and rob a number of banks to fund his health food restaurants. Eventually he married a 20-year-old hippy and began holding meditation classes for a growing group of devotees, eventually completing the transformation into Father Yod. Pretty impressive CV, yes? And the reason why he.’s the compelling main subject of tonight’s documentary on Rialto Channel,THE SOURCE FAMILY.


Directed by Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille, the film acts as both an oral history of Baker’s teachings and The Source Family itself, and makes for an interesting watch. From the early scenes we understand the appeal of Baker’s teachings for sixties era, Californian youth – everyone is healthy, young and good looking, and by god, they seem to be having fun. Luckily, someone in the Source family documented it so we could share the sun-drenched vision, if only for a little while. 


Unlike similar stories, there are not too many disturbing secrets unearthed. There are hints of under-aged girls being initiated into the ways of womanhood but no one is claiming force, and at times babies, as well as adults, got dangerously sick due to Yod’s disbelief in hospital treatment. Things really start to go wrong when Baker moves the group to Hawaii and starts facing some significant grief from the locals, but I won’t spoil things for you by going into further detail.

People have called Baker “Manson without the madness”, and it’s fair to say that yes, a little brainwashing went on. Despite that, he was really just a run-of-the-mill megalomaniac who enjoyed peace and (free) love, and lived life to the fullest. For the full story, tune in tonight at 8:30pm – you won’t be disappointed.

THE SOURCE FAMILY premieres Thursday 18th August at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel.

PROPHET’S PREY, and the power and commitment of Amy Berg

Posted on Thursday 11/08/2016 August, 2016 by


To say that I “love” the work of documentarian Amy Berg would be a poor choice of words. Usually featuring subject matter that is incredibly hard to stomach, her films are amongst some of the most confronting being released today, and completely compelling. To say I admire and have utmost respect for what she does would probably be a better way to phrase things, as the incredible talent is one who doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty when it comes to some of the most repugnant topics out there.


A chilling portrait of a megalomaniac, tonight’s documentary helmed by Berg is PROPHET’S PREY, a narrative of warped religious authority and patriarchal abuse every bit as chilling as her pedophile priest exposé, DELIVER US FROM EVIL. The Oscar-nominated documentarian delves into another story of innocence abused, but this time the lens is turned on authority figures in the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints rather than the upper echelon of the Catholic faith.

When lead subject Warren Jeffs rose to Prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, he took control of a religion with a very long history of polygamous and underage marriage. In a short time however, Jeffs managed to expand these practices and the power of his position in unprecedented ways. To say he took things to the next level would be putting it mildly - he bridged the gap between sister wives and ecclesiastical rape, befuddling the moral compass of his entire congregation. The finely crafted film examines Warren Jeffs' life and shows us exactly how he became a worshipped and adored Prophet. Even now he has a devout following numbering in the tens of thousands - many of whom would give their life at any moment with just one word from the “great” man. Despite a trail of abuse and ruined lives, Warren has maintained his grip on power.


Though Jeffs is now imprisoned, there are many children still living in dangerous conditions, and Berg has her doubts that many members of the cult will be able to shake off their leader’s influence. From his cell, he continues to correspond with his followers, issuing apocalyptic warnings of imminent natural disasters. It is frustrating viewing, but like many of Berg’s other works, it is a story that needed to be told.

As aforementioned, Berg doesn’t shy away from unpleasant subject matter, and is often the person willing to tackle the most insidious of tales. “Thank you for telling this story!” an audience member cried out just before the first screening of her Hollywood sex abuse documentary, AN OPEN SECRET, which is a title that begs for an expose.


The film premiered in late 2014 as part of the DOC NYC festival, and has faced significant hurdles in securing a release, a fact that Berg, who attended the screening along with some of the film’s subjects, acknowledged up front. “We get one screening,” the director reportedly told the audience after the credits rolled. “Maybe we’ll get distribution. It’s not very likely.”

The problem is the subject matter, which is amongst Berg’s most controversial yet. The film centres on the rise and demise of Den, an early digital network that was allegedly at the heart of a Hollywood sex-abuse ring. The movie features extensive interviews with Michael Eagan, who, subsequent to participating in the film, drew headlines for his allegations against key Hollywood power players like X-MEN director Bryan Singer (he subsequently dropped the lawsuit). Todd Bridges, the “Diff’rent Strokes” star who has said he suffered sexual abuse as a young actor, is interviewed, while Corey Feldman, who has spoken out against sex abuse in the past, appears in footage from prior TV interviews but doesn’t directly participate in the movie.

At time of writing the film has apparently finally received a (limited) distribution deal, and will be yet another harrowing yet essential watch. Much respect to Berg, and I can’t wait to see what she tackles next.

 PROPHET'S PREY premieres Thursday 11 August at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel.

One of the easiest to watch and most beautiful documentaries I have seen of late is on Rialto Channel tonight, and I defy you not to fall in love with it.

Called GAYBY BABY, it is an Australian film that follows the lives of four kids - Gus, Ebony, Matt and Graham - whose parents all happen to be gay. As they each wrestle with personal change, the outside world wrestles with the issue of marriage equality, and whether or not kids of same-sex families are at risk. It turns the political into the personal, and by focusing on the children rather than their parents, gives us a truly intimate look into the struggle for all members of the families. It helps hugely that the children are all totally wonderful too - they are funny, surprising, passionate and incredibly articulate, as well as some of the most self-aware young people I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching on screen.

The work of producer Charlotte Mars and director Maya Newell (who herself comes from a same-sex parented family), the film was widely praised and much loved upon its release, but soon attracted an absolutely infuriating level of controversy that rolled out a few months later.


The film was banned from NSW public schools by state education minister Adrian Piccoli and NSW Premier Mike Baird in August last year. It followed a front-page splash from News Corp's Daily Telegraph, entitled "Gay class uproar", which claimed parents were outraged at a planned screening of the film at Burwood Girls High School in Sydney's Inner West. Up to 50 schools across Australia, including 20 in NSW had organised a simultaneous broadcast of the film as part of a nationwide Wear it Purple Day campaign of sexual inclusion in schools. Ironically, Burwood Girls High School counts Maya Newall as an alumnus. Wear it Purple Day founder Katherine Hudson said at the time that she could understand the film being banned if it showed "grotesque sex scenes or violence", but it most definitely contains neither. “This is a film about families. Even for conservatives, this stuff would be easy to swallow," she said. Outrageously, NSW Premier Mike Baird said he did not believe the film belonged in the classroom either. "I think tolerance is a good thing. But I think there should be some parameters around it," he said. "This is something that can be provided but done outside class time."


The film’s creators now say that they are tired of the film’s controversy, which distracts greatly from its original purpose. "We were tired of it. We felt like there was something more considered we could offer with this film and maybe these kids could be that voice," Mars told the press at the time. "It wasn't about yelling, it was just about telling the story of these young people, who are incredibly compelling. I think that there's something powerful in that."

The Sydney Morning Herald’s film critic said of GAYBY BABY: “Use the words "children" and "sexuality" in the same sentence, and someone is bound to get upset”, and that seemed the only explanation anyone could possibly think of for the fuss surrounding the incredibly gentle and thoughtful observational documentary about children raised by gay and lesbian parents.


What it really demonstrates to me is that the parents in the film are very much like their straight counterparts, and deserve the same respect along with their kids. In 2015 this shouldn't even be controversial or headline grabbing, it should be a given. It seems though that it's still a lesson some of us need to learn – particularly adults.

 GAYBY BABY Premieres on Rialto Channel on Thursday 4th August at 8.30pm

Insanely relevant at the time of its inception and still very much so now, The Black Panther movement is known around the world for its passion and its determination to bring about change. With this in mind, it seems crazy that tonight’s THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION is actually the first feature-length documentary to explore the Black Panther Party, and what a documentary it is.

Hugely informative as well as a fantastic watch, it explores the movement’s significance to American culture, its cultural and political awakening for black people everywhere, and the painful lessons wrought when a movement implodes. The work of Emmy award-winning documentarian Stanley Nelson, the film weaves an incredible tale as told by those from within the Panthers, and mixes a priceless treasure trove of rare archival footage with comment from a diverse group of people who were there at the movement’s height. This includes a wide range of viewpoints, giving us valuable insights into the time through stories told by everyone from police and FBI informants to journalists, white supporters and detractors, as well as Black Panthers who remained loyal to the party and those who left it.

It tells the story of a pivotal, history making movement that gave rise to a new revolutionary culture in America at a time when the country was in a tremendous state of flux. Their causes – and their famous slogans like "Power to the People"– are now relevant again in an era that has seen the emergence of the "Black Lives Matter" movement and tense relations between African American communities and the police in the US in constant escalation.

Talking about the Black Panther movement from a New Zealand perspective necessitates a shout out to our own agents of social change who emerged around the same time, the Polynesian Panthers. Spurred on by the work of the Black Panthers in the US, the Polynesian Panther Movement began in the early seventies in New Zealand in response to the oppression and discrimination Pacific Islanders faced at the time. 

Key to their formation and mobilisation were the now-infamous Dawn Raids. The previous decade, New Zealand had opened its arms to migrants from the Pacific Islands to fill labour shortages. When the economy tightened, immigration authorities rapidly changed their relaxed attitude and started deporting people who had overstayed their visas. While British immigrants also overstayed, it was Pacific Islanders who police targeted most, and the parents of Pacific Islanders I know are still clearly traumatised by what they saw happening to their neighbours and families. As well as raids, in the streets of Central Auckland police would freely question any brown-skinned people – Maori and Pacific Islanders alike – for proof that they were in New Zealand legally. Outrageous, especially given how recently it happened.

Coming out of suburbs like Grey Lynn and Ponsonby, the Polynesian Panther movement also aimed to balance stereotypes of Pacific Islanders created by the media, and they were inspired by civil rights movements in South Africa as well as the United States.

Not just protesters, they established homework centres so students could study after school, providing a service which is not uncommon today, but was new in the 1970s. The group organised prison visits to reach out to people inside who had no-one else, and to transport family members who otherwise would not be able to go. They demonstrated against poor housing and injustice.

Now aged in their 50s, key founding members of Panthers recently released a book POLYNESIAN PANTHERS detailing stories of the protests, demonstrations and achievements, and it is well worth a read I reckon. It covers moments from the dawn raids of the seventies through to the violence of the Springbok tour protests in the eighties, and comes from some pretty amazing voices.

So settle in and watch tonight’s THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION, before taking in a little essential reading about a revolutionary movement much closer to home. 

Premieres Thursday 28th July at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel.

REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM

Posted on Thursday 21/07/2016 July, 2016 by

More than just a run of the mill political documentary, tonight’s REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM has been called the definitive discourse with Noam Chomsky - a man widely regarded as the most important intellectual alive - on what he believes is the defining characteristic of our time. Unexpectedly, that characteristic is the deliberate concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a select few, a subject common to many Western countries and one many of us in New Zealand are frustrated by on a very regular basis.

In what can feel like a 75-minute teach-in by Chomsky at times, the M.I.T. linguistics professor who has been a leading leftist political analyst, critic and writer for six decades talks about the death of the American dream in particular, and how that came about. It’s not all doom, gloom and free falling polemic however, and I think Michael Berkowitz summed it up well when he called the documentary “a clear-eyed, easily accessible outline of how and why American idealism has been sabotaged”. 


Through interviews filmed over a long four years, Chomsky unravels the principles that have brought the American people to the crossroads of historically unprecedented inequality. He traces a half a century of policies designed to favour the most wealthy at the expense of the majority, and it makes for sometimes grim watching. All of this is filtered through his own experience too, looking back on his own life of activism and political participation. 

Despite his pedigree, watching Chomsky on screen is insanely easy, and it’s getting to be second nature of late as it feels like he has been the subject of so many fascinating documentaries. These include MANUFACTURING CONSENT: NOAM CHOMSKY AND THE MEDIA, which erupted onto the screen way back in 1993 and definitely woke more than a few minds up when I was at university. There is also Michel Gondry’s animated discourse, IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY?, which I reviewed for Rialto Channel last year and after getting my head around it, enjoyed immensely. The latter is definitely directed towards making Chomsky more deeply human, and at times slightly more likeable, despite its art house nature.


But back to tonight’s REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM, the subject matter at hand. During the film the famed intellectual is observed citing minds as diverse and respected as Aristotle, Adam Smith and James Madison as he melds history, philosophy and ideology into a sobering vision of a society in a rapidly accelerating decline. It’s amazing that despite the depressing and frustrating nature of what he is describing, he never raises his voice. “There’s nothing surprising about this,” he says in an effortlessly gentle and measured tone, even when describing what he sees as a 40-year trend of government bent to the will of the super-rich at the expense of everyone else. “That’s what happens when you put power in the hands of a narrow sector.” To put it mildly!


Now 87, Chomsky really does seem to be “at the height of his intellectual powers” according to the New York Times, and I agree. Ever mindful of the impact of his theories he even tries to end the discourse on a positive note. He says, “there’s a lot that can be done if people organise, struggle for their rights as they’ve done in the past…” but I get the feeling even he doesn’t quite believe that any more. Is all hope lost? It depends on who you talk to, but let’s just say I’m pretty glad not to be in America right now.

Indiewire called tonight’s film REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM “a much-needed punch in America's gut", and that it most definitely is. Not just for America either in my humble opinion: look outside your window and see if our own current government is playing the same games in your own, still pristine backyard.

REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM premieres on Rialto Channel Thursday 21 July at 8.30pm

GUANTANAMO’S CHILD: OMAR KHADR

Posted on Thursday 14/07/2016 July, 2016 by

 

Guantánamo Bay detention camp, also called Gitmo, is the now infamous U.S. detention facility on the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in southeastern Cuba. Gitmo is most well known for having housed Muslim militants and suspected terrorists captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. The facility became the focus of worldwide controversy over alleged violations of the legal rights of detainees under the Geneva Conventions and accusations of torture or abusive treatment of detainees by U.S. authorities.

In early 2002 the camp began receiving suspected members of al-Qaeda and fighters for the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist faction that had ruled Afghanistan and harboured al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his followers. Eventually – and not unexpectedly - hundreds of prisoners from several countries were held at the camp without charge and without the legal means to challenge their detentions. The Bush administration maintained that it was neither obliged to grant basic constitutional protections to the prisoners, since the base was outside U.S. territory, nor required to observe the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war and civilians during wartime, as the conventions did not apply to “unlawful enemy combatants”. In a word: outrageous, but given the fear of the time, highly accepted by many.

In 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the system of military commissions that was to be used to try selected prisoners held at Guantánamo was in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The legality of the commissions was restored in 2006 by the Military Commission Act, which also denied the federal courts jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus petitions on behalf of foreign detainees. In 2008, however, the court overturned the latter provision by ruling that foreign detainees did have the right to challenge their detentions in the federal courts. It should have spelled the end for Gitmo, but despite the court’s decision, several prisoners who had been cleared for release in other countries or for transfer to their home countries continued to be detained, either because no country would accept them or because their home countries were deemed too volatile to guarantee their secure imprisonment.


Which brings me to GUANTANAMO’S CHILD: OMAR KHADR. Khadr is a Canadian who was detained at Guantanamo Bay as a minor and held there for 10 years. He was imprisoned for allegedly throwing a grenade during a firefight that resulted in the death of an American soldier. At the time, he was 15 years old and had been brought to Afghanistan by his father, who was affiliated with an extreme religious group. During the conflict, Khadr was badly wounded, and captured by the US. After being detained at Bagram, he was sent to Guantanamo Bay.


Khadr is reportedly the first person since WW2 to be prosecuted in a war crimes tribunal for acts committed as a juvenile. Outrageously, he is not only the youngest person ever convicted of a war crime in modern history, he is also the only person ever charged with "murder in violation of the laws of war" – despite the fact that hundreds have died in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 and despite the fact it was never a war crime to kill a soldier in conflict until the US rewrote the laws of war after 9/11.

It is very likely years from now that the US courts will overturn his Guantanamo conviction, and after being released on bail on May 7, 2015 he is appealing his conviction. Just over a year after his release from prison, is engaged to be married to a human rights activist who helped fight for his release and is clearly living a life quite different from that on the “inside”. His happiness is palpable, and that is what leads me to agree with reviewers who have said the reasons the well-crafted documentary angers you will depend on your point of view.


Some will find it sickening that a terrorist, convicted of murder, now walks free in Canada. Others will be horrified by the tales of torture that Khadr went through as a teenager at Guantanamo. “Some people say, ‘he seems so composed, relaxed, ­convincing and credible, and this really brought me closer to him’,” says Patrick Reed, who co-directed the film with Michelle Shephard. “Others say, ‘he’s composed, ­relaxed and comfortable and the guy’s obviously the master ­manipulator’.

“The point of the film was to allow him to speak, for people to see him and to allow a dialogue about the issue. But it wasn’t necessarily to have everyone have the same opinion about him, because I don’t think even Michelle and I have the same opinion about him.”

In other words, one hell of a watch and riveting viewing. Stake your claim in front of the TV now. 

GUANTANAMO’S CHILD: OMAR KHADR premiering Thursday 14th July at 8.30pm  Rialto Channel 39. 

GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY & THE PRISON OF BELIEF

Posted on Thursday 7/07/2016 July, 2016 by


When I was a kid my parents dabbled in a number of what were then termed “alternative” lifestyle options, none of which seemed to stick. It was West Auckland in the ‘70’s and my mum and dad were curious but not delusional, so the likes of Scientology came and went in a flash. What I do remember however is visiting our post box in Glen Eden (we then lived in ‘rural’ Titirangi and our letterbox came and went) and being handed numerous pieces of follow-up collateral from the religion to chuck straight in the bin. If nothing else, this lot were KEEN – and extremely persistent.

 This is at the heart of tonight’s documentary by filmmaker Alex Gibney, GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY & THE PRISON OF BELIEF. Infuriating and fascinating in turn, Gibney's film, although paying some lip service to the increased global reach of the 'religion' founded by sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard, focuses on the origins of the organisation and the personality of its founder, before tracking it chronologically. We learn about how it hooks people in – and then never lets them go.

The director had reportedly previously turned down the opportunity to do an expose on the church, but when approached for this foray into the religion was swayed exponentially by one essential difference. What was different was the involvement of journalist Lawrence Wright and his book, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & The Prison of Belief”. Gibney couldn’t put the book down and so started a two-year journey making the doco we are watching tonight.

The documentary highlights the craziness of creator L. Ron Hubbard, the celebrities who made the religion intriguing to the world, and the horrific stories of abuse from former members. But Gibney says for him the entry point was not the sensationalism but rather the people who seek out Scientology to find better lives. It addresses the numerous rumours that have been swirling for years about the church but oddly doesn’t tackle one of the biggest Scientology mysteries - the current location of the wife of creepy Scientology leader, David Miscavige. Some have said she is in hiding and others say she’s dead – either way, the whole situation is damn spooky in my humble opinion. “At the end of the day, rather than doing stone skipping and covering as much as possible in a superficial way we chose to dig in on certain things,” Gibney told Business Insider on why he left the story out of the documentary. Shelley has been missing since 2006, allegedly following an incident where she filled several job vacancies without her husband’s permission. I find the whole situation disturbing as well as fascinating, and would have loved more on the weirdness that is David Miscavige.

  

David Miscavige

But that was my only quibble with this fast-paced, well-made and pretty bloody shocking documentary. To finish, here is a list of some of the church’s most famous members – a few of whom came as somewhat of a surprise…

 

Kirstie Alley

The former "Cheers" star says the religion helped her overcome a cocaine addiction. Alley says of Scientology: "to me it's so normal, and probably 90 per cent of the crazy stuff I hear isn't true. I've been a Scientologist for over 30 years. I think a lot of things are sensationalized." In 2010, rumours swirled that her weight loss program, Organic Liaison, was a front for the religion.

 

Elisabeth Moss

The “Top of the Lake” and “Mad Men” star was introduced to the religion by her parents. "Some people say yoga really helps them feel centered ... or there's Buddhism or whatever," Moss has told The Telegraph. "I mean, I think that for me it's [Scientology], one thing that has helped me at times, and it's kind of as simple as that."

 

Laura Prepon

Prepon is famous for her work in "That '70s Show" and "Orange Is the New Black” and reportedly might be rethinking her role on the popular Netflix series because of Scientology, says Star magazine. Sources say that Prepon's role on the show could be having an impact on the church of Scientology, and on her membership.

 

Juliette Lewis

The much-loved actor is a long time member and has spoken out against grief given to its most famous face, Tom Cruise. "The thing about Scientology is it is anti-drug in that you're seeking relationship or communication tools — simple basics on how to live better," she told The Daily Beast. "It's a religious philosophy and self-help movement. And you'll never see a truthful word written about it in mainstream media."

 

Jason Lee

The "My Name Is Earl" actor's ex-wife, Carmen Llewellyn, has said that the actor is so obsessed with the religion that it lead to the couple's split. In an interview with the National Enquirer, Llewellyn claimed Lee forced her to join Scientology, too.

 

John Travolta

Travolta has practiced Scientology since 1975, when he was given one of L. Ron Hubbard's books. He features heavily in tonight’s doco and in 1983 told Rolling Stone: "As a Scientologist I have the technology to handle life's problems and I have used this to help others in life as well."

  

Tom Cruise

Cruise is Scientology's most prominent member, and became involved with the church in 1990 through his first wife, Mimi Rogers. "It's a privilege to call yourself a Scientologist, and it's something that you have to earn," Cruise said in 2004. The church reportedly bugged the phone of his first wife, Nicole Kidman, and in 2013, Cruise admitted that ex-wife Katie Holmes divorced him in part to protect the couple's daughter, Suri, from Scientology.  

Walt Disney: Part Two, presenting the mouseketeers…

Posted on Thursday 30/06/2016 June, 2016 by

Walt Disney is a brand that has gone beyond the films, the theme parks and the man after whom it takes its name, a clever creative who stayed one step ahead of the game all his life.

He is also the subject of the second half of tonight’s two-part documentary, WALT DISNEY. Few creative figures before or since have held such a long-lasting place in American life and popular culture. As well as opening some major theme parks, he and his brother Roy co-founded Walt Disney Productions, which became one of the best-known motion-picture production companies in the world. Disney was also among the first to use television as an entertainment medium. The Mickey Mouse Club, a variety show featuring a cast of teenagers known as the Mouseketeers, became a cultural phenomenon and launched the careers of numerous young stars, many of whom are major household names today.

So now I bring you the definitive (ahem) list of some of the most famous mouseketeers

 Annette Funicello

This early years triple threat was reportedly the only Mouseketeer hand selected by Walt Disney himself. She later claimed her vocal range is ''about three notes,'' but her dance skills and loveable personality made her the original show's most popular cast member by far. Before she died in April 2013 at age 70, Funicello starred in six, uber cheesy “Beach Party” films during the sixties before retiring from the public eye.

Ryan Gosling 

As a Mouseketeer, Gosling has said he didn't get much screen time because, in his words, the show's producers ''realised that I wasn't really up to snuff in comparison with what some of the other kids were able to do.'' But when he did get a shot at the spotlight, the future Oscar nominee did pretty damn well I reckon and even still drags out his vocal cords in films like Blue Valentine (and with his second job, indie rock outfit Dead Man's Bones). As well as some stellar on screen turns he made his directing debut with 2015's Lost River, and his face is one of the most recognisable in film.

Justin Timberlake

The ''SexyBack'' singer had the vocals well nailed even before his voice changed, and the sheer number of albums he has created  - and shifted – speaks volumes. Timberlake was on The Mickey Mouse Club from 1993 to 1995, where he met his future N'Sync bandmate JC Chasez and most famously, his equally high-earning ex, Britney Spears.

 

Britney Spears

Britney's dance moves were crisp and precise from the get go – girl can clearly move. And though she'd eventually surrender to Auto-Tune, her early vocals weren’t too bad at all. Now many albums  - and Grammy nods – down the track Spears is raking in the coin as the star of her own Las Vegas residency, which goes by the name “Britney: Piece of Me" and kicked off in December 2013. It has been a runaway success, proving that despite a few emotional battles, Spears has still got it.

Keri Russell

Keri Russell rose to fame with her portrayal of Felicity Porter in the TV series Felicity and currently stars in The Americans, but she first appeared on screen in The All-New Mickey Mouse Club at the age of 15. She was on the show from 1991 to 1994, and co-starred with Ryan Gosling and future pop Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera. She doesn’t sing much these days, apart from the tune "Baby Don't You Cry" during the film Waitress.

 

John Stamos

John Stamos was only in one episode of the Mickey Mouse Club, in 1989 and is best known for his role as Jesse on the sitcom Full House and as Dr. Tony Gates in ER from 2006 to 2009. He is an accomplished musician however, occasionally performing with The Beach Boys and as a solo musician.

 

Christina Aguilera

Aguilera has done a full circle - starring in the all-star revival of The All-New Mickey Mouse Club from 1993 to 1995 and now appearing again as herself on The Voice. Her debut self-titled album came in at number one on the 1999 US Billboard 200 and spawned three US Billboard 100 number-one singles. She has four Grammys and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide.

WALT DISNEY: the documentary and the man behind the brand

Posted on Thursday 23/06/2016 June, 2016 by

If you can dream it, you can do it…” Walt Disney

In turns magical and well, mammoth, the Walt Disney Co. has been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the last couple of weeks. The bad press kicked in after an alligator took off with a toddler on the shores of one of its most popular US resorts, but the mega brand is creeping its way back into the good books for all of the right reasons now that Finding Dory has hit and is set to wipe the floor with all animated film records that have gone before it. Walt Disney is a brand that has gone beyond the films, the theme parks and the man after whom it takes its name, a clever creative who stayed one step ahead of the game all his life.

He is the man who also happens to be the subject of tonight’s two-part documentary, WALT DISNEY. Few creative figures before or since have held such a long-lasting place in American life and popular culture. Born in 1901, Walter Elias "Walt" Disney was an international celebrity by the time he was 30 and hailed a genius before he was 40. He has long represented all that America – and much of the rest of the world – wants to believe in, but was as flawed and well, “human” as the rest of us. Biographer/cultural historian Neal Gabler speaks of the great Walt’s “dark soul,” and a former animator is quoted is saying of Disney, “if you crossed him, he was one mean SOB.” Disney was by no means a saint, but by god was he a creative force to be reckoned with.


A young Disney attended McKinley High School in Chicago, where he took drawing and photography classes and was a contributing cartoonist for the school paper. At night, he took courses at the Chicago Art Institute, always upskilling and fuelling his creative fire. When he was 16 however, he dropped out of school to join the Army but was rejected for being underage. Instead, he joined the Red Cross and was sent to France for a year to drive an ambulance.

When Disney returned from France in 1919, he moved back to Kansas City to pursue a career as a newspaper artist. His brother Roy got him a job at the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio, where he met cartoonist Ub Iwerks. From there, Disney went on to work at the Kansas City Film Ad Company, where he made commercials based on cutout animation. Around this time, an always-curious Disney began experimenting with a camera, doing hand-drawn cel animation, and decided to open his own animation business. From the ad company, he recruited a bloke named Fred Harman as his first employee.

Walt and Harman made a deal with a local Kansas City theatre to screen their cartoons, which they called Laugh-O-Grams. The cartoons were hugely popular, and Disney was able to build his own studio, upon which he bestowed the same name. Laugh-O-Gram hired a number of employees, including Harman's brother Hugh and Iwerks. By 1923, however, the studio had become burdened with debt, and Disney was forced to declare bankruptcy. He knew his stuff creatively but not when it came to keeping the books, a fact that would plague him his entire life (whether he chose to acknowledge that or not).

Disney and his rather more financially savvy brother Roy soon pooled their money and moved to Hollywood. Iwerks also relocated to California, and there the three began the “Disney Brothers' Studio”. Their first deal was with New York distributor Margaret Winkler, to distribute cartoons they had created during the Laugh-O-Grams years. They also invented a character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and contracted the shorts at USD $1,500 each.


A few years later, Disney discovered that Winkler and her husband, Charles Mintz, had stolen the rights to Oswald, along with all of Disney’s animators, except for Iwerks. Right away the Disney brothers, their wives and Iwerks produced three cartoons featuring a new character Walt had been developing called Mickey Mouse. When sound made its way into film, Disney created a third, sound-and-music-equipped short called Steamboat Willie. With Walt as the voice of Mickey, the cartoon was an instant sensation. The rest as they say, is history.


He and Roy co-founded Walt Disney Productions, which became one of the best-known motion-picture production companies in the world. Disney was also among the first to use television as an entertainment medium. The Mickey Mouse Club, a variety show featuring a cast of teenagers known as the Mouseketeers, became a cultural phenomenon and launched the careers of numerous young stars. He won 22 Academy Awards during his lifetime, and was the founder of theme parks Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Variety put it perfectly when they said that few lives can sustain a two-hour documentary, but with WALT DISNEY four doesn’t seem nearly enough. Feast your eyes on tonight’s first installment, and book a date with your couch for the next.

 

 

 

 

 

BEING EVEL – the man, the stunts, the general stupidity

Posted on Thursday 16/06/2016 June, 2016 by


In the world of stunts and generally nutty behaviour, few names are more recognisable than that of Evel Knievel. He is synonymous with motorcycles jumping over cars and backpack rocket launchers, and when I was growing up every kid wanted to see the great man perform one of his stunts in person at least once. Wearing the white leather jumpsuit and cape too, of course.

The infamous daredevil has already been the subject of two fiction films (one in which he amazingly played himself, or “himself”), one self-produced documentary, a good number of television specials and retrospectives. So what makes tonight’s documentary BEING EVEL different? Well it brings a little more again when it comes to revealing the man behind the abject lunacy.


And what lunacy it was. Knievel made a career out of ridiculous stunts, like his botched attempt at jumping the fountains at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas that saw him spectacularly fail to nail the landing and instead wipe out on the asphalt. Atrociously. Few were truly successful, but he never did recover from the PR nightmare that was a failed jump across the Snake River Canyon when his “mighty rocket” didn’t even well… launch. He was a shocker if I’m to be totally honest, but where he did succeed – every time – was in the area of showmanship. He passed away in 2007 - not in any kind of stunt mind, but from a pulmonary ailment exacerbated by Hepatitis C, which the performer likely contracted from one of countless blood transfusions after failed stunts – but the legend lives on.


BEING EVEL’s point of difference from all of the tales that have gone before it is that it cleverly tells the story behind the 1970s American daredevil for today’s Extreme Sports generation. And this is done in a variety of clever ways. Many of the kids who watch it won’t be at all fazed by his antics after a lifetime of viewing the likes of the Crusty Demons and Jackass, but director Daniel Junge and co-writer Davis Coombe have cut his footage carefully for maximum impact. BEING EVEL also features notorious Jackass Johnny Knoxville in the role of both interview subject and co-producer, and he is clearly an unashamed fanboy when it comes to the infamous daredevil.

Despite this, the exercise in hero worship doesn’t shy away from its subject’s least admirable traits, of which there are quite a few. Instead it focuses on the previously untold and very much darker tale of the man behind the ridiculous cape; a one-time outlaw whose wildly dangerous career spanned 75 ramp-to-ramp motorbike jumps and saw him break every bone in his body. After hours, a combination of large amounts of alcohol, a weakness for anything in a dress, and an obsession with stunts bordering on death wishes saw a character emerge who definitely wasn’t in line with the all-American hero Knievel liked to portray himself as.

Having said that, although he’s depicted as behaving pretty badly (particularly with respect to women) what he does isn’t all that strange when you hold it up to the attitudes of the time and the general reaction from your average idiot when they find themselves earning craploads of cash. Many a rags-to-riches story is associated with less than admirable behavior, and this is definitely one of them.

It is interesting to acknowledge the legacy he left behind. Daniel Junge and co-writer Davis Coombe essentially credit him for launching the thriving, money spinning arena act that is extreme sports. Testimony from l fans like Knoxville and the legendary Tony Hawk make it clear Knievel’s lasting influence is as big as his personality.

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