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Gotta Dance (2008)

gottadanceFollow the joys and struggles of twelve senior women and one man as they try out, train, and perform as a dance team for the New Jersey Nets basketball team. It is exhilarating and inspiring to watch this determined diverse group of people deal with the pressures of learning new routines in order to fulfill a dream. The crowd goes wild when the team comes out during halftime seemingly to perform a Gene Kelly number and instead breaks into hip-hop. A media frenzy ensued, and they were featured in US News and World Reports and on The Early Show, Saturday Night Live, and the Today Show. This documentary film shows age is a state of mind, not a date of birth.

Gotta Dance has inspired a Broadway musical. See if it inspires you.

The living matrix: a film on the new science of healing (2009)

TLM-Cover_frontDespite somewhat of an infomercial look and feel, The Living Matrix captures the viewer's attention. The opening scene of a child with Cerebral Palsy tugs at one's heartstrings. Anyone who has a chronic illness, disease, or an afflicted loved one is gently persuaded to continue listening to the success stories.

Experts in their fields share research on bioenergetics, quantum physics, reconnective healing, energy fields, the placebo effect, and other cutting edge scientific developments. The term miraculous is used loosely, but the spiritual aspects are never explored. Those interested in holistic health and alternative methods of healing owe it to themselves to watch this 83 minute documentary. Find additional resources on The Living Matrix website.

Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones: Live at the Checkerboard Lounge (2012)

On November 22, 1981, the Rolling Stones were in Chicago for a concert and stopped into Buddy Guy’s Checkerboard Lounge to hear Muddy Waters and get back to their blues roots. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, and Ian Stewart joined in. It was incredible watching a young Mick Jagger singing and interacting with the father of modern Chicago blues and Keith Richards jamming on the guitar. Buddy Guy, Lefty Dizz, and Junior Wells are also featured. Bootleg copies existed, but this is the first official film recording of the historic night. The Rolling Stones were named after the Muddy Waters song, “Rollin’ Stone.”

Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones reminded me of the historic night at Sun Records in 1956 when Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley had an impromptu jam session. No film footage exists, but most of the sound was recorded and released as The Million Dollar Quartet. This event spawned the musical, Million Dollar Quartet.

The Queen of Versailles (2012) PG

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.

Born to be Wild (2011)

Don't miss this darling 40 minute film about saving baby orangutans and baby elephants. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, Born to be Wild is expertly edited and has a wonderful soundtrack with classic songs by Hank Williams and Mel Torme.

Catfish

Catfish (2010)
I watched the documentary Catfish over the weekend and it was outstanding. It’s a “reality thriller”—you’ll never think about Facebook the same way again. I was on the edge of my seat from start to finish!

Check out articles from CNET and the Los Angeles Times for more details.

Hard Rock Treasures

Hard Rock Treasures (2005)
Hard Rock Treasures is the history of Hard Rock Cafes and how they obtain memorabilia of rock groups. Entertaining and educational! Showed lots of old rockers! Fun!

Don Bernstine hosts the documentary. Learn more at the Hard Rock blog. Visit Hard Rock's YouTube Channel for glimpses of treasures and so much more.

God in America

God in America (2010)
This six hour documentary looks at the settling of America, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation, and the issue of religion and politics in America from a strictly religious history point of view.

The Evangelical Protestant religion of many of the early settlers made them resentful of either church leaders or kings telling them what to do. Itinerant Methodist ministers traveling in the wilds west of the Appalachians made Methodism the fastest growing denomination in the US until the battle over slavery broke it into northern and southern denominations. The rights of Catholics and Jews to have their children free from Protestant religious training in public schools led to a greater separation of church and state.

In postwar America, Billy Graham and his crusade against "Godless" communism made him the best known religious figure in America. These are just a few of the interesting takes on American history found in this program which was created by a cooperative effort of The American Experience and Frontline.

For more information, visit the companion website.

Babies

Babies (2010) PG
This fascinating, charming documentary shows the growth of four babies living in Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo, and San Francisco from swollen bellies to one year olds. With minimal words, no translation is needed. I really enjoyed the background music.

Watch the babies bond and interact with parents, siblings and other children. See them as they explore their surroundings, crawling, and learning to talk. The documentary shows contrasts in the babies’ lives, from their environments (modern or primitive) to the animals they encounter (both farm and domestic). But no matter their circumstances, all of the babies seemed happy and well-adjusted.

Also check out the special feature that shows them at three years old.
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Valentino: The Last Emperor

Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008) PG-13
Come take a look behind the scenes of the fascinating world of haute couture and Valentino, the world-renowned fashion designer. This film focuses on two shows: a 2006 collection show in Paris and a 2007 retrospective show in Rome celebrating his 45 year career. The film crew follows Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti, his longtime business partner and companion, through the lengthy process from design to show. It’s amazing how much preparation and work it takes.

The documentary is interspersed with film from Valentino’s earlier days where he was influenced by the silver screen. View a world of fashion few have access to, including the elaborate parties, glamorous gowns, celebrities, and elaborate sets. Dog lovers will enjoy the antics of his five pugs. The film touches on the ownership of the company. A drawback is that most of the film is spoken in French and Italian with English subtitles.

One of the special features shows Valentino traveling between his homes in Paris, Rome, Gstaad, and New York and the perfectionism that goes into maintaining them.

Control Room

Control Room (2004)
It’s an eye-opening step into what was happening during the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Told from the point of view of Arab television network Al Jazeera, the documentary follows Al Jazeera employees and covers time spent in the US Central Command briefing room in Doha, Qatar. It explores the media’s role in modern war.

The only American featured prominently in the documentary – Marine Corps media liaison officer John Rushing – later becomes a Washington, D.C.-based correspondent for Al Jazeera International (check out his YouTube channel). After I saw the documentary, I read Mission: Al Jazeera (2007) by Josh Rushing; he resigned from the Marines after he was forbidden to speak about the documentary with the press.

Read TIME's interview with Rushing shortly after he accepted the job with Al Jazeera or look at Fast Company's article.

H. H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer

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.