You probably remember where you were the first time you came across A’ziah King’s Internet-exploding story about why she and “this b h here fell out.” Back in 2015, King’s road-trip-gone-WTF tale – a seemingly harmless trip to Florida takes some incredibly wild and potentially harmful turns – played out in 148 Tweets sent from King’s @Zola handle and gave new meaning to the word “viral.” Seriously, for a while there Zola/A’ziah and “this white b h” she met at Hooters (that would be Jessica) were all anyone on the Internet could talk about. And so naturally someone had to make a movie about it.This month, Zola, co-written and directed by Janicza Bravo, finally arrives in theaters on a wave of buzz thanks to its inventive direction, razor-sharp and hilarious script (co-written by Tony-winning Slave Play playwright Jeremy O. Harris), and star-making performances from Taylour Paige as Zola, Riley Keough as Stefani (a fictionalized Jessica), as well as Nicholas Braun, and Colman Domingo. Ahead of the movie’s release, Rotten Tomatoes editor Jacqueline Coley spoke with Bravo, Harris, Paige, Keough, Braun, and King herself about their first reactions to the @Zola thread, Bravo’s “genius” direction, and how they managed to capture the spirit of the Internet on film.Zola is in theaters Wednesday June 30, 2021.On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.
With the sweaty season in full swing, most of us are gearing up for our summer habits: Curling up with the latest paperback, bingeing that show that everyone has been talking about, or hitting the movie theater for some blockbuster action. But for many, summer also means catching up with or checking in on great documentaries. At home and in theaters, summer always boasts a fresh crop of gripping true-to-life stories to keep us entertained.To help you narrow down your choices, we ve put together a list of some our favorite Fresh and Certified Fresh docs that you can stream today or catch in theaters now or very soon. From socially conscious documentaries to harrowing retrospectives on historic events – with dynamic subjects like Aretha Franklin, Anton Yelchin, Beto O Rourke, and disgraced Silicon Valley CEO Elizabeth Holmes – we have you covered with our list of the some of the buzziest true-life feature films of the year so far, and where to watch them.Stream it: Apollo 11 (2019) 99%Unprecedented access to unreleased audio from the Apollo 11 space mission gave director Todd Douglas Miller a whole new avenue to craft a unique story about well-known events. Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, this reconstruction of humanity’s first successful trip to the moon uses archival footage to completely enthrall the audiences. Expect the movie, which is one of the best-reviewed films of the year, to be a big contender in Documentary categories come awards season.Critics Consensus: Edifying and inspiring in equal measure, Apollo 11 uses artfully repurposed archival footage to send audiences soaring back to a pivotal time in American history.Where to watch it: Stream it now on, FandangoNow, Amazon, Vudu, Google.Stream it: Knock Down the House (2019) 99%What it is: When documentarian Rachel Lears started filming Knock Down the House, she was solely interested in documenting four progressive Democrats who had challenged incumbents. Each faced tough odds, but no one could predict that one of the film s subjects, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, would become one of the most talked about politicians in the legislature. The film documents AOC s road to the ballot box alongside Amy Vilela of Nevada, Cori Bush of Missouri, and Paula Jean Swearengin of West Virginia.Critics Consensus: A galvanizing glimpse behind the scenes of a pivotal election, Knock Down the House should prove engrossing for viewers of all political persuasions.Where to watch it: Stream it on Netflix.Stream it soon: Amazing Grace (2018) 99%What it is: The late Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, was in a decades-long legal battle with the man behind the concert doc Amazing Grace. Originally intended for release by Warner Bros. in 1972, director Alan Elliott s film was long delayed as he spent time trying to find lost footage and fend off legal challenges from Franklin. Though never publicly stated, Elliott maintains the soul singer s suit and objections were just a negotiating tactic. After the singer s death, her estate reached an agreement with Elliott and Amazing Grace was cleared to premiere in 2018. Shot by late director Sydney Pollack and reassembled by Elliott, the feature lives as the only video documentation of one of the best-selling gospel albums in history and an enduring tribute to the late singer at the height of her power. Critics Consensus: Brilliantly capturing a remarkable performer near the peak of her prodigious power, Amazing Grace is a thrilling must-watch documentary for Aretha Franklin fans.Where to watch it: Currently in limited release. Available for digital download or on Blu-Ray and DVD August 6.Stream It: Running With Beto (2019) 91%What it is: Regardless of your political leanings, Running with Beto is a highly entertaining and intimate look at a candidate running against political convention. A Democrat has not won a statewide election in Texas for over 25 years, but with a millennial-friendly social media strategy and old-fashioned grassroots campaigning Texas Congressman Beto O Rourke made a serious run against incumbent Senator Ted Cruz. Running With Beto captures the drama of the campaign.Critics Consensus: Candid and compelling, Running with Beto is an illuminating exploration of an up-and-coming politician and the changing political landscape around him.Where to watch it: Watch on HBO or HBONow.In theaters: Pavarotti (2019) 87%What it is: In the age ofInstagram celebs it s hard to believe that at one time – for several decades in fact – one of the biggest stars in the world was an opera singer. Luciano Pavarotti transcended the opera singer stereotype to become a bona fide A-list celebrity and live a fascinating life. Handled by a rock-and-roll manager, Pavarotti lived the life of a hard-rock frontman and documented much of what happened. Director Ron Howard was given access to the late singer s home movies and – for the first time – given permission to interview Pavarotti s wives, children, and closest friends.Critics Consensus: Pavarotti pays entertaining tribute to a towering cultural figure with a documentary whose evident affection for its subject proves contagious.Where to watch it: Currently in limited theatrical release.In theaters: The Biggest Little Farm (2018) 91% What it is: When a noise complaint about their dog got them evicted them from their apartments, filmmaker John Chester and his chef wife Molly Chester bet it all on The Farm. The revolutionary organic farm they created is actually a return to noncommercial farming techniques, and the trials and tribulations of achieving it are the focus of this documentary, which spans the course of seven years. A perfect watch if you re looking for inspiration for your own veggie patch.Critics Consensus: Uplifting, educational, and entertaining, The Biggest Little Farm is an environmental advocacy documentary with a satisfying side dish of hope for the future.Where to watch it: Currently in limited theatrical release.Coming soon: Maiden (2018) 98% What it is: The tale of Tracy Edwards, a 24-year-old cook turned skipper for the first all-female crew to sail around the world, is one so incredible it sounds like a work of fiction. In truth, tired of being dismissed and passed over because of her gender, Edwards took on the male-dominated sailing competition Whitbread Round the World with her historic team entry. Following the formation of the crew and every battle they fought just to compete, this is one of the most rousing feelgood stories of the summer.Where to watch it: In limited release June 28.Stream it: The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (2019) 79% What it is: Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced former CEO and founder of blood-testing startup Theranos, is another one of those figures destined to inspire hours of entertainment. She s the subject of several books, countless articles, and an upcoming feature film with Jennifer Lawrence attached, and The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley is the latest to feature the poster child for everything wrong with the tech industry and icon idolatry. Chronicled by Going Clear documentarian Alex Gibney, Stanford dropout Holmes was obsessed with Apple CEO Steve Jobs and molded herself in his image, crafting a house-of-cards empire built largely on hero worship and aggressive PR without having ever achieved actual success.Critics Consensus: Alex Gibney s The Inventor declines to outright condemn the actions by Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, but instead provides a comprehensive overview of the scandal that allows viewers to mull over its implications towards the broader Silicon ValleyWhere to watch it: Watch on HBO or HBONow.Coming Soon: Love, Antosha (2019) 97% What it is: Actor Anton Yelchin was an artist that defied categorization. The star of blockbuster films like Star Trek, Terminator: Salvation, and The Smurfs and beloved indies like Green Room, Like Crazy, and Odd Thomas, Yelchin was a cinematic chameleon. The documentary gives us a peek inside the enigmatic actor s life and his tragic death at the age 27. Editor Turned director Garret Price conducted interviews with Yelchin s family and friends, including Chris Pine, JJ Abrams, Nicolas Cage, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Simon Pegg.Where to watch it: In limited theaters August 2.Coming Soon: Hail Satan? (2019) 96% What it is: Satanism takes center stage in the hilarious documentary Hail Satan?. The movie chronicles the satanic temple s fight in deeply Christian Arkansas and forces audiences to reconsider the sect religion that is so often a punchline. After only 30 minutes of Hail Satan?, you ll begin to question if the group is in fact comprised of assumed weirdo outcasts or something more like patriots.Critics Consensus: Hail Satan? challenges preconceived notions of its subject with a smart, witty, and overall entertaining dispatch from the front lines of the fight for social justice.Where to watch it: Available for digital download or on Blu-Ray and DVD July 23.Like this? 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The documentaries at this year’s Sundance Film Festival shared stories of good versus evil, of hard work and cutting loose, of reflections on life and death, of sharing never-before-seen stories and keeping viewers informed. With so many documentaries to choose from, it can be easy to get lost in all of the options. Fortunately, if you missed the film industry’s annual trek to Park City, many of these award-winning films will soon make it to a streaming platform or screen near you.Boys State (2020) 94%(Photo by Thorsten Thielow courtesy of Sundance Institute)Distributor: Apple TV+, A24First-time director Amanda McBaine made the jump from producing to collaborate with her The Overnighters director Jesse Moss for an incisive look at U.S. politics through the eyes of young boys in Texas. The result is an astonishing documentary that examines how young people are shaping politics and how campaign strategies affect our own views – even on the scale of a boys civics camp. On awards night, Boys State won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize in its category. Jordan Raup wrote in The Film Stage, “This extraordinary portrait of a democratic process in microcosm is both a testament to how Washington, D.C. and the rest of the country could achieve bipartisanship as well as a look at what has led to such a fractured political system.”The Truffle Hunters (2020) 97%(Photo by Courtesy of Sundance Institute)Distributor: Sony Pictures ClassicsDirecting team Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw set their sights on Northern Italy, where a secret society of village elders and dogs protect their ritual of hunting for rare Alba Truffles from prying eyes. Although demand for the truffles is high, the group resists giving out their locations and even hunts at night to avoid detection. The documentary is at once a delightful character study and a meditation on greed versus the need to keep the tradition alive. Lee Marshall of Screen International wrote, “A slow-burn watch, The Truffle Hunters is a film as distinctive and lingering as the scent of the rare tuber that inspires it.”The Dissident (2020) 96%(Photo by Jake Swantko courtesy of Sundance Institute)Distributor: N/AOscar-winning documentarian Bryan Fogel investigates the mysteries surrounding the death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi after he entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey and never returned to his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. The film retraces his steps through new footage and the testimonies of those who knew him for an intimate portrait of a man whose work continues to spurn the Saudi Arabian officials who tried to silence him. Eric Kohn of Indiewire said, “Fogel assembles a sturdy compendium of talking heads to explain how Khashoggi managed to speak truth to power for so long, and why his fate reverberates for other Saudis who share his sentiments.”Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado (2020) 100%(Photo by Giovan Cordero courtesy of Sundance Institute)Distributor: NetflixCristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch had just finished filming their documentary about famed Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado when he died in November of 2019. At the height of his fame, Mercado reached around 120 million people with his messages of love and hope – before he mysteriously went off the air in the 2000s. The result became Mucho Mucho Amor, a tribute to the man behind many sequined capes that reveals what happened to Mercado before and after his time as one of TV’s most charismatic personalities. Writing for The Wrap, Carlos Aguilar called Much Mucho Amor “a tribute as inspired and jubilant as its majestic subject, a true original.”Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (2020) 93%(Photo by Courtesy of Sundance Institute)Distributor: N/AIn the waning months of 2016, documentarians Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross filmed the closing night of a local Las Vegas bar, capturing the patrons’ tearful goodbyes and plenty of dazed stares from one too many drinks. Only, the premise was actually a set-up: the bar is still open (and located in New Orleans), and everyone involved was instructed to behave as if the set-up were true. Nevertheless, the film is full of genuine emotions coming from normal people, blurring the lines between documentary film and traditional narrative. Amy Nicholson of Variety wrote, “It s The Bachelorette wed to The Iceman Cometh: the setup is staged, but the tears are real.”Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020) 100%(Photo by John Wakayama Carey courtesy of Sundance Institute)Distributor: NetflixWith her feature debut, Cameraperson, Kirsten Johnson emerged as one of the documentary world’s most exciting new voices. Her next project, Dick Johnson is Dead, is radically different but no less inventive, challenging the way we talk about and imagine faith, aging, death, and the afterlife. As Johnson follows her own father s struggles with memory loss, the two confront the inevitable with plenty of laughs and heartfelt moments. Nick Allen of RogerEbert.com called it “a gorgeous blend of truth and fiction, with a guiding sense of humor that allows her film to always be honest and hilarious.”On the Record (2020) 99%(Photo by Becca Haydu courtesy of Sundance Institute)Distributor: HBO MaxAlthough Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s documentary On the Record may have first caught the national spotlight after the departure of one of its top producers and a distributor, they bounced back at the Sundance Film Festival with a rapturous premiere screening. Their movie follows Drew Dixon as she recounts in vivid detail the night Russell Simmons assaulted her and processes the impact it eventually left on her career, wrestling with the pressure of coming forward in the wake of the #MeToo era. Her story was later painfully corroborated by several women who Simmons also harassed or assaulted. Beandrea July wrote in The Hollywood Reporter, “The overall result is an intimate look at what is at stake when rape victims decide whether or not to tell their stories.”Welcome to Chechnya (2020) 100%(Photo by Courtesy of Sundance Institute)Distributor: HBODavid France heads to closed-off Chechnya to meet the LGBTQ activists bravely combating the government-sanctioned violence against their community and helping others escape almost certain death. The documentary captures their struggle against the persecution of LGBTQ individuals and anyone seen supporting them, as the international press is shut out and the Russian government turns a blind eye to the carnage. Alonso Duralde of The Wrap called the film “a chilling examination of both the brutality that the Chechen LGBT community is forced to face on a daily basis and the difficulty of leaving the country for peace and safety.”The Painter and the Thief (2020) 96%(Photo by Barbora Kysilkova courtesy of Sundance Institute)Distributor: N/AAfter two of Barbora Kysilkova’s paintings are stolen from an art gallery in Oslo, the artist approaches one of the men accused of stealing them, Karl-Bertil Nordland, and offers to paint his portrait in the hopes of learning where her still-missing paintings may have gone. Instead, the two strike up an unlikely friendship over several years. Benjamin Ree’s The Painter and the Thief won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Storytelling at the Sundance Awards on Saturday. Esther Zuckerman said in Thrillist, “Norwegian documentary filmmaker Ree paints a remarkable portrait of two lives that become intertwined.”The Fight (2020) 99%(Photo by Sabrina Lantos courtesy of Sundance Institute)Distributor: Magnolia PicturesCo-directors Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, and Eli Despres reunite after their first project together, Weiner, to film the ongoing saga of what it’s like to be an ACLU lawyer in the Age of Trump. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at headlines and the high-stakes battles for freedom behind closed doors. The film won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Social Impact Filmmaking at the Sundance awards ceremony. Kate Erbland wrote in Indiewire, “The unfussy stuff, the human stuff, is what works best, both for The Fight and the very people it follows.”Feels Good Man (2020) 95%(Photo by Christian Bruno courtesy of Sundance Institute)Distributor: N/AFirst-time filmmaker Arthur Jones follows the riveting transformation of the viral Internet character Pepe the Frog from an innocent comic figure to a symbol for internet trolls and the far right. Pepe’s creator, Matt Furie, now wants him back, but is it too late to save the frog’s reputation on the internet? Feels Good Man explores the unruly nature of internet meme culture and reveals how few rights creators have over their creations once they’re online. Jones won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Emerging Filmmaker. Angie Han of Mashable wrote, “Jones demonstrates an insatiable curiosity about his subject, speaking with everyone from a former Trump campaign insider to a collector of Rare Pepes to an expert on the occult.”Collective (2019) 99%(Photo by Courtesy of Sundance Institute)Distributor: Magnolia PicturesAs one of the standouts in the festival’s Spotlight section, Collective remained a must-see title, as director Alexander Nanau documents the step-by-step unfolding of a tragedy with in-depth details and breathtaking footage. After a devastating fire at a night club killed many and seriously injured several dozens more, investigative reporters discovered the government blocked survivors from life-saving treatments and covered up health code violations that led to the loss of several more lives. The harrowing account raises questions about who should be held accountable, if anyone will be at all. Vikram Murthi wrote for The Film Stage, “Collective sports a procedural-like pace that keeps the information legible and the action linear. It doesn t preclude a lighthearted touch nor get bogged down in misery to underline its points.”Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.