Pre-internet, for many people in Australia, Garry Shandling arrived on our shores in 1986 with It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. We hadn’t seen anything like it, as this postmodern take on the sitcom format broke every rule in the book, and the show developed a cult following, with its creator cementing it years later with The Larry Sanders Show between 1992 – 1998.
When Shandling passed away in 2016, there was an outcry from North America, where comedians – through podcasts and online followings – paid their respects to a comedy genius. One of his loudest champions was Judd Apatow, now a comedy industry in his own right, who was given plenty of breaks early on by Shandling, and has now directed this personal, grandiose documentary.
With AAA footage, journals and talent, Apatow has constructed an exhaustive and entertaining film, and unlike his later feature films (This is 40, Funny People), the extraordinary length of the enterprise is actually for the audience’s benefit. When after more than 4 hours, Apatow reveals the secret to Shandling’s being, you would be hard pressed not to tear up at a beautiful but complicated life that you have just had presented before you.
Divided into two eps, the first part charts Shandling’s childhood and family life, the journey to comedy, all the way up until the launch of The Larry Sanders Show. Part two ends with the comedian’s memorial service where anyone who is anyone was moved to laughter and tears in equal measure.
A bunch of talent – Jim Carrey, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jay Leno, etc – is interviewed sitting down in conversation with Apatow, who appears often and makes for a sensational, knowing moderator; whilst others – Seinfeld, Alec Baldwin, Tom Petty, Chris Rock, etc, etc – are captured in intimate behind the scenes footage during Garry’s often filmed career.
The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling fills in a lot of gaps about Shandling’s life and career, especially for Australian audiences, and does it in a dramatic, often hilarious, ultimately profound and highly emotional way. It’s a highly fitting tribute to a comedy genius who touched millions of lives on a macro level, but here we discover the hundreds that he affected daily, and how.
At a minimum, you will be hunting down a DVD copy of The Larry Sanders Show to check out the special features, which this documentary poses was Garry’s final masterpiece.
The first time that we see Sandra Bullock in the terrifying dystopian thriller, Bird Box, she’s flatly and brutally laying down the law to two sweet faced little children who she refers to plainly as “Boy” and “Girl”, providing them with a bone-shaking guide for survival free of sugar coating. It’s tough stuff, and an instant signpost that this is not the Sandra Bullock that we know and love. Harsh, desperate, and no-nonsense, this is a call-back to her stunningly abrasive turn in the Oscar winning Crash, and she’s just as good here, if not better. Superbly directed with a wonderfully grim sense of economy by Danish filmmaker, Susanne Bier (Brothers, Open Hearts, In A Better WorldBird Box), Bird Box punches hard and offers no emotional quarter, and neither does Sandra Bullock.
In this semi-sci-fi shocker’s very, very near future, a cruel, unforgiving – and unseen – presence has decimated the world’s population, with all who make the mistake of glimpsing it prompted into a suicidal frenzy. With pockets of humanity staking out their own claims, and other groups not jumped to suicide but instead taking on a kind of zealot’s fury in forcing others to embrace the horror, the world has become a truly horrifying place. With these death-bringing creatures swooping out of the sky at any moment, Bullock is Malorie, a mother desperately trying to protect her children from the nightmare around them. All blindfolded to prevent them from inadvertently looking at the thing that will instantly make them lose their minds, this vulnerable trio embarks on a journey toward hoped-for safety.
While the world created by Bier and screenwriter, Eric Heisserer (adapting Josh Malerman’s novel), is a singularly frightening one, Bullock’s Malorie is equally fascinating. As we learn in flashback scenes (including an extraordinary set-piece introducing the unseen horrors), she is a cynical, deeply reluctant mother, and her actions throughout the film are never quite what we expect. Whether in her relationship with fellow survivor, Tom (the charismatic Trevante Rhodes in a sweetly sympathetic turn), or her harsh interactions with the kids in her care, Malorie constantly switch-foots audience expectations.
She is, however, a real anchor in this very scary film, as her glacial exterior slowly melts to reveal the humanity beneath. It’s a fine performance from Bullock, and an equally impressive one from director, Susanne Bier. While her decision not show the film’s threat (except in a few briefly glimpsed drawings) is a bold and daring one that will infuriate many viewers, her expert handling of the material is undeniable. There are a number of sequences that will literally have you on the edge of your seat, and Bier’s mastery of suspense and emotion is near remarkable. Packing an intense emotional wallop and a truly nail-grinding sense of suspense, Bird Box is a surprise stunner.
Like some visitation of a harbinger of a coming apocalypse that is starting to seem more-and-more like something we deserve, the documentary The American Meme explores the rise of the Instagram celebrity, the ‘influencer’ and in particular, a cross-section of Insta-celebs who’ve gained an insane amount of notoriety through shameless self-promotion in social media.
Musician and producer DJ Khaled, an affable personality who documents his daily rituals and combines self-promotion of himself as a brand.
Kirill Bichutsky, known to his 1.1 million Instagram followers as @slutwhisperer. He lives the kind of Girls Gone Wild, party-every-night lifestyle that would be the daily routine of a cashed-up, feckless, misogynist douchebag. Curiously though, at his core, Kirill seems tormented by the utter emptiness of his fame and ultimately sees the party-boy reputation he’s constructed as being an impediment to moving on to a different career and phase in his life, mainly because of the gargantuan legacy of his digital footprint. If you search his name online, all that appears are reaction-baiting boorishly sexist memes, such as selfie shots of Bichutsky wedging his head between hundreds of different women’s naked backsides and breasts or numerous images of the Russian American bon vivant spraying champagne in the faces of a plethora of glazed-eyed women. By celebrating this debauched lifestyle, he’s become a social media celebrity though even he himself seems innately aware that it will dry up sometime soon, faster than you can say ‘vine’.
Brittany Furlan is an actress and comedian who built a huge following on Vine with little mini comedy clips and character skits, only problem was Vine closed its doors. Furlan’s self-promotion has seen her gain small movie roles and development deals for TV comedy shows.
Josh Ostrovsky goes by the twitter name @thefatjew and has likewise established himself as a personality unattached to any kind of comedy or acting career, though he will most likely move into those areas.
Capping off all of these personalities is the one who really started this: Paris Hilton. Having established perfume and fashion accessory lines, she has built her own huge pile of cash on which to cry herself to sleep at night. These days, Paris exploits her fanbase on social media as something of a rent-an-acolyte as she visits international cities and DJs at various parties and events. Paris Hilton is nothing if not a businesswoman, seemingly possessing an almost Warhol-esque sense of the pop culturally relevant (Warhol is something of a touchstone for her), she rides a self-obsessed wave of narcissistic branding which no doubt rubbed-off on her former assistant, Kim Kardashian West.
Frankly, we are not entirely sure if this documentary is genuinely informative and interesting or, in its depiction of the weapons-grade vacuity of its subjects is actually just terrifying and galactically disheartening.