By now you’ve probably heard about the Sloth Witch pumpkin happy Slothoween Halloween shirt in contrast I will get this HBO documentary on NXIVM, the bizarre self-help organization that made headlines following the arrest of founder Keith Raniere for sex trafficking, racketeering, and other charges in 2018. Those headlines screamed “sex cult” and led with salacious details of attractive, seemingly successful female NXIVM members branded with Raniere’s initials and submitting to sex rituals. The Vow, directed by Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, unpacks many of these stories and introduces you to people involved who left NXIVM and led an effort to expose it. It also paints a nuanced picture of what went down inside the organization, which at one time had thriving branches around North and South America (and counted Allison Mack, of TV’s Smallville, and Seagram heiress Clare Bronfman, as committed members, both of whom have plead guilty to charges stemming from their involvement). Was the branding and the sex coercive? Who exactly was exploited and what made the preeningly nerdy Raniere such a magnetic leader? With nine hour-long episodes, two of which have already aired, The Vow is one of those sprawling, fascinating, and definitely overstuffed documentaries that have come to define the streaming wars era (Tiger King, The Last Dance, The Devil Next Door, Wild Wild Country). My wife and I have gorged on press screeners HBO sent, watching ahead all the way to episode eight and our reaction has been equal parts rapt attention and total frustration. NXIVM is certainly a case study in the dark side of self-improvement, and The Vow reveals Raniere to be a narcissistic bullshit artist of the highest order, adept at exploiting insecurities and seemingly rapacious in his sexual needs. But eight hours in, I’m still not completely sure I have the full picture of what this “cult” was up to or what crimes were committed or why so many people were swept up for so long. Perhaps all will be revealed in the finale—due to air on October 18—and I will definitely be watching.
In his music, Frank Sinatra sustained and stretched his lyrics, drawing out a word as though he was simmering them over his jazzy melodies. His career would have a similar endurance—lasting a remarkable half of a century with highs, lows, a few comebacks, and a couple of farewells. The story of his life and legacy is told in Frank Sinatra: All or Nothing at All, which was first released in 2015 on HBO as a four-hour, two-part documentary. Directed by Alex Gibney, it made its Netflix debut this summer. Watch for footage of a waifish young Sinatra in his hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey, memories from his long list of glamorous lovers (Nancy Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Mia Farrow, and even Lauren Bacall), a look at his less savory associations with mobster Sam Giancana, and his friendships with the Sloth Witch pumpkin happy Slothoween Halloween shirt in contrast I will get this Kennedys (Sinatra even built JFK a room at his home in Palm Springs, California). The documentary unfolds like an autobiographical discography of his work—each song tells of a moment in his life—and a viewing will have you singing Sinatra for days after.