Netflix: 3 winners, 1 dud

Career magician and mentalist James “The Amazing” Randi has spent his life deceiving others, and now, in his retirement, devotes himself to exposing frauds. 

This well-paced and entertaining documentary contains wonderful television footage of Randi from his early days, and provides a fascinating insight as to why he has such a vendetta against self-proclaimed “psychics”, “faith healers” and “knifeless surgeons”. 

He is witty and articulate as he explains how various illusions are accomplished, and the way so-called psychics (he believes there is no such thing) trick their audiences. 

In one of the film’s best moments, we see him expose the trick used by faith healer Peter Popoff to defraud his flock of thousands of dollars as he pretends to be “speaking to God about their various ailments”. 

It is deeply ironic that this man who vehemently protests deception has been living his own lie in his personal life. Watching him come clean in his later years is a very beautiful and deeply personal part of the film. 

Randi has no problem with magic. He just gets upset when people are led to believe it is anything other than a trick. 

I give this 5 hearts


20 Feet From Stardom – 1h 30m

This documentary won an Academy Award in 2014, and deserved it. 20 Feet From Stardom highlights the journey of backup singers as these “guns for hire” vocals back up some of the biggest names in music. 

Any of these talented vocalists could have their own career as a lead vocalist, but fate, circumstances, and, at times, just plain bad management have left them in the shadows. 

Not to feel too sorry for them, as they make a pretty darned good living without the pressures placed on them that stars have to contend with. 

Darlene Love’s story is particularly heartbreaking though, as she could easily have been another Aretha Franklin had management not deliberately sabotaged her career. 

This documentary is 90 minutes of pure fascination into the behind the scenes world of the music industry. 

I give this 5 hearts


Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory – 1h 17m

We all know that music taps into a special place in our minds, and “Alive Inside” proves it.

This 2014 documentary follows social worker Dan Cohen in his work with Alzheimer’s patients, most of whom have reached a point of non-communication. 

Using a simple iPod with headphones, Cohen creates a playlist that contains some of the most popular music from the patient’s youth. As the patient listens to the music, we see the lights literally come on in their eyes as they become cognitive once again. The transformation is incredibly powerful and moving. 

Cohen discovered this connection in 2006, and expresses his understandable frustration that despite the amazing results he is unable to get funding to provide this very simple technology to nursing homes and people in need. 

Documentaries often have a way of creating awareness, which eventually leads to social action and change. “Alive Inside” has lead to the creation of the non-profit organization Music & Memory

This documentary is so beautiful and lovingly made, there are moments that will make you tear up. 

I give this 5 hearts


Pentatonix: On My Way Home

I love music, and enjoy getting to know a performer or band better in the up close and personal off stage platform that a documentary offers. After watching a documentary, I usually find myself liking them even more, as they reveal more about their nature and share some of their challenges. 

This is not the case with this documentary about the vocal group Pentatonix. 

Perhaps these young people have all grown up with a camera (or phone) in their faces and don’t know how to just ‘be’ anymore, or perhaps they really are just vacuous, self-obsessed divas, or perhaps this was less a documentary and more a very long and tedious commercial to promote the group? 

I don’t know the answer, but do know that I have never sat through a more boring, lifeless, and staged documentary. 

Of the five vocalists, only one comes off as remotely likeable or real, everyone else is too busy mugging for the camera and trying to be witty. Sure, they are amazing singers, but after watching this documentary I dislike them all so much as people that I probably wouldn’t buy a ticket for their concert. 

Don’t be fooled by the 4-star rating on Netflix, this documentary is a dud. 

I give this 1 heart (and that’s only for the harmonies)

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About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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