At the beginning of The Queen of Versailles, a fascinating documentary, we meet the impossibly wealthy Seigel family: patriarch David is the founder of Westgate Resorts, a timeshare company; and the family is in the midst of the construction of their own version of Versailles, billed as the largest private home in the U.S. Before too long though, the economic crisis of 2008 leaves the company floundering, construction halted on Versailles, and the family making extreme cuts to their extravagant lifestyle.
David’s wife Jackie is the “Queen of Versailles” and she is the quirky, stoic, and often over-the-top heart of the movie. Jackie married into money and has enjoyed it to the fullest, but in the face of an uncertain future she is resiliently planning how to cope if her life takes yet another dramatic turn.
The Pacific (2010) TV-MA
This ten part HBO miniseries offers a realistic and horrifying view of World War II in the Pacific. The series is based on the memoirs of two marines who were there, Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge, and the story of Congressional Medal of Honor winner Sgt. John Basilone. Some episodes are devoted almost entirely to specific battles: Guadalcanal, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima. Others show the marines on R&R in Australia, on medical leave, or in basic training.
The producers (who include Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg) purposely used relatively unknown actors so that the viewer wouldn’t be distracted by recognizing well-known stars showing up in cameos ala The Longest Day (1962).
Check out the books that served as inspiration:
Did you know? The 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into WWII is Wednesday, December 7.
You Don’t Know Jack (2010) TV-MA
Al Pacino is outstanding, and completely convincing, in his portrayal of Dr. Jack Kevorkian (known as “Dr. Death”) in this film that traces Kevorkian’s life from 1989, when he performed his first assisted suicide, up to the time he was sent to prison in 1999.
Most American adults have heard of Kevorkian, and many have strong feelings about him, one way or the other. Despite the delicate and controversial nature of the subject, I thought the film handled it with dignity, integrity, and fairness. This film brings us “behind the scenes” with a number of his patients and their families, as well as showing his legal struggles throughout the 1990s. Definitely thought-provoking!
H. H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer (2003)
A 64 minute biography of Herman Mudgett, focusing mainly on the murders committed while Mudgett used the name H. H. Holmes, but still describing Mudgett’s early life and later his trial and execution. In the late 19th century, Mudgett built what was then called a “castle,” but in what was more reminiscent of a spider web, he captured and killed visitors thronging to the Columbian Exposition of 1893. This could be thought of as the movie version of the book Depraved by Harold Schechter and could accompany a reading of The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.