Documentary Review: American Experience: The Bombing of Wall Street (2018)

Release Date: February 13th, 2018
Directed by: Susan Bellows
Written by: Susan Bellows
Music by: Joel Goodman
Cast: Oliver Platt (narrator), various

PBS, 53 Minutes

Review:

I usually like these PBS American Experience documentaries, even if they’re a bit dry at times.

This one was kind of slow but the story was still interesting as it doesn’t just talk about the bombing of Wall Street but it also discusses the fallout from it and how it sparked a heated debate, across the country, about the federal government’s role in protecting Americans from acts of terror and how much overreach should they be allowed to have in combating acts of political violence. Even though this now happened 101 years ago, we’re still having this debate in America and the government has certainly pushed the envelope in regards to their use of power.

For those who don’t know, a cart loaded with dynamite exploded in front of Morgan Bank on September 16th, 1920. The bombing killed 38 and injured hundreds.

It’s a pretty compelling story and an event that seems somewhat forgotten in history. I remembered initially learning about it in high school but haven’t thought much about it since. Strangely enough, they never did find out who was behind the bombing and it remains unsolved.

Overall, this was full of a lot of information about the event and how it sent shockwaves through the country. There were a lot of details I didn’t know previously, so that alone made this a worthwhile watch.

Rating: 6.25/10

Documentary Review: Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009)

Also known as: Persistence of Vision (working title)
Release Date: September 5th, 2009 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Don Hahn
Written by: Patrick Pacheco
Music by: Chris P. Bacon
Cast: Don Hahn (narrator), Roy E. Disney, Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Randy Cartwright, Howard Ashman, various

Red Shoes, Stone Circle Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“People always talked about Roy as the idiot nephew. That was his nickname. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was smart, unassuming and powerful. You could easily underestimate him, but you did so at your own peril.” – Peter Schneider

If you like old school Disney stuff, there are a lot of documentaries about old school Disney stuff on Disney+. Honestly, it’s the only reason I’m currently subscribed other than having access to the classic movies I also love. I barely care about Star Wars or the MCU, at this point.

Anyway, this is one of those documentaries.

Waking Sleeping Beauty is the story of how the backbone of Disney, it’s animated feature films division, was suffering by the mid-’80s and how several creatives came in and turned it all around with what’s now referred to as their “renaissance”.

This is a compelling story and for fans of classic Disney animation, this is certainly worth watching. It features interviews with lots of people who were there and who understood the structure and politics of the company at the time.

My only real gripe about the documentary is that it never felt focused enough on the important topics and it jumped around quite a bit, as it tried to cover a lot of films and their whole creation process in a documentary that was less than 90 minutes. However, Disney+ could easily expand on all of this, as they already have several documentary shows that spend full hours on specific topics from their past.

Still, this held my attention from start-to-finish and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I just wish a lot of it was expanded on and fleshed out more because it was all so interesting. It just felt rushed through at times.

Rating: 7.25/10

Documentary Review: Kirby at War (2017)

Also known as: Kirby at War: La Guerre De Kirby (original French title)
Release Date: November 20th, 2017 (France)
Directed by: Marc Azema, Jean Depelley
Music by: Raphael Gesqua

Metaluna Productions, Passe Simple, 52 Minutes

Review:

This was a neat little television documentary made in France about Jack Kirby’s life in World War II and how that experience inspired some of his artistic work in comics.

I found it pretty interesting and the host of the documentary actually went to some of the locations where Kirby and his company fought the Nazis. It was cool seeing these locations and having some of the battles explained.

However, this was choppily edited at times and it also felt like a lot of it was rushed through. I felt like it needed more detail and more time to let certain things marinate. But it seems like this needed to fit within the running time of a one hour format.

This would’ve benefitted from not having television constraints. Something over an hour would’ve made this a more enriching experience.

Still, if you like Jack Kirby’s work and war stories, this is a good mashup of the two.

Rating: 6/10

Documentary Review: Jasper Mall (2020)

Release Date: January 24th, 2020 (Slamdance Film Festival)
Directed by: Bradford Thomason, Brett Whitcomb

Window Pictures, 85 Minutes

Review:

“If Belk goes, we are in deep woo-woo.” – customer

I didn’t go into this film expecting it to hit me in the feels but man, it really did. I think that has to do with the fact that I spent a lot of time in my youth going to malls, hanging out in malls and eventually working in one doing a bunch of different jobs from stock boy, sales, store management and eventually a third-shift security supervisor.

With that, I probably have a different level of nostalgia for indoor malls, as well as a deeper understanding of what they were and how they’ve declined in recent years.

This documentary captures a year in the life of the Jasper Mall in Jasper, Alabama, which isn’t too far from Birmingham. It focuses on multiple people but the main person is a former zoo owner who now works for the mall in a variety of roles from trying to lease space, being the head of security, maintenance and janitorial work. He’s sort of the “Jack of all trades” in the mall and it’s almost like he lives there.

His love and dedication to his job, the mall itself and the community around the mall is pretty damn inspiring but it’s also really sad, considering that the mall is having a really hard time keeping tenants and attracting patrons in a world with online shopping and other new options that have popped up in recent years.

We also get to spend time with a shop owner, who is retiring but has been a mainstay in the mall for a couple decades.

Beyond that, we get to meet a job applicant, a few other workers and shop owners, as well as some of the regular patrons, who don’t want to see their once prosperous community center die.

This isn’t just about Jasper Mall, though, it’s about small town America and the decline of malls in general. This one just feels like the perfect subject to convey this story and to bring light to what has happened to shopping malls across the country.

Jasper Mall is incredibly genuine and real. It makes you yearn for simpler times when everyone loved going to the mall on the weekends not just to shop but to interact with others in the community. They used to be places where things happened and in most cases now, they’ve become ghost towns and mausoleums to our cultural history.

Rating: 8/10

Documentary Review: Scary Stories (2018)

Release Date: October 28th, 2018 (Frightening Ass Film Festival)
Directed by: Cody Meirick
Music by: E.K. Wimmer
Cast: Alvin Schwarts (archive footage), R.L. Stine, various

Giant Thumb Studios, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Part of Alvin Schwartz’s brilliance was that he took all these old folk legends and made them readable for kids. And I think that’s his particular genius.” – R.L. Stine

I think that for most Gen-Xers and older millennials, the Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark books were a staple of their childhood. The three books certainly were a major part of my late elementary and middle school years and also did a lot in generating my lifelong love of horror.

This documentary tells the story about these books but it also talks about Alvin Schwartz, the man who created this phenomenon, as well as the cultural impact of his work, which caused busybody parent groups to try and ban the books in schools.

The story is told by various individuals interviewed for this. Many talk about Schwartz, the books themselves, the cultural issues surrounding them, as well as their own personal experiences discovering and reading these books.

The film is capped off by Schwartz’s son sitting down and having a discussion with the woman that started the movement to ban his father’s work.

Overall, this was pretty good but I feel like if you aren’t already a fan of this literary (and now film) franchise, that this won’t specifically resonate with you.

Rating: 6.25/10

Documentary Review: Walt & El Grupo (2008)

Release Date: April 26th, 2008 (San Francisco International Film Festival)
Directed by: Theodore Thomas
Written by: Theodore Thomas
Music by: James Stemple
Cast: Walt Disney (archive footage), various

Theodore Thomas Productions, Walt Disney Studios,106 Minutes

Review:

Walt & El Grupo is the story of Walt Disney’s 1941 US government sponsored trip to Latin America with a group of other artists in an attempt to study the culture in an effort to create two of Disney’s World War II era animated features: Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.

Considering that I really like those two movies, quite a bit, it was cool finally seeing the story behind their creation.

For those that don’t know, those movies were made to get Americans interested in traveling to the beautiful, exotic nations south of us. The films also gave us one of my favorite Disney animated characters, José Carioca! Granted, I also like Panchito Pistoles but José takes the cake for me.

Walt Disney was always a fascinating figure to me, so learning the reasons behind why he did this was pretty neat. It was also nice learning about who went with him and what they all were looking for and how they created the iconic material that they did from this Latin American adventure.

It was really cool seeing what the culture was like in Latin America in the early 1940s and kind of comparing that to where those places are at now. I like that this documentary showed these places in the modern era, in an effort to illustrate their changes and growth. Granted, that wasn’t the bulk of the story here.

The most important thing about this documentary is that it simply helps you understand Walt’s creative process, his business mind and his passion.

Rating: 7/10

Documentary Review: What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (2018)

Also known as: What We Left Behind: Star Trek DS9 (shortened title)
Release Date: October 12th, 2018 (Los Angeles special screening)
Directed by: Ira Steven Behr, David Zappone
Music by: Kevin Kiner, Dennis McCarthy
Cast: Max Grodenchik, Andrew Robinson, Armin Shimerman, Nana Visitor, Colm Meaney, Jeffrey Combs, Aron Eisenberg, Rene Auberjonois, Ira Steven Behr, Alexander Siddig, Casey Biggs, Rick Berman, Terry Farrell, Jonathan West, David Carson, Marc Bernardin, Penny Johnson Jerald, Avery Brooks, Rene Echevarria, Ronald D. Moore, Michael Okuda, Chase Masterson, Louis Race, Michael Dorn, Wallace Shawn, Marc Alaimo, Michael Westmore, John Putman, James Darren, Bill Mumy, Cirroc Lofton, Nicole de Boer

Le Big Boss Productions, Tuxedo Productions, 455 Films, 116 Minutes

Review:

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was my favorite Star Trek show of the bunch. However, my relationship with it didn’t start out well. In fact, I really disliked it early on, quit halfway into the first season and didn’t return until years later, after it was off the air and I could stream it on Netflix.

Over the years, I’d hear from really hardcore Trekkies that it was the best show and that once it found its footing, its larger story and its purpose, it became one of the best shows in sci-fi television history.

After giving it a second chance, I discovered this to be true and the show, at least for me, lived up to that hype and may have even exceeded it.

This documentary was crowdsourced and probably long overdue. I’m glad that it got made when it did because a few key people who were involved in it have passed away in the few years since.

This was directed and put together by Ira Steven Behr, who was the DS9 showrunner. But he clearly has a ton of passion for this show, all the people he worked with on it and the large fanbase that has continued to grow over time.

What We Left Behind features interviews with just about every key person that was involved in the show and it was nice seeing how much they loved their work and each other, as well as the fans. Sadly, many fanbases have been wrecked in recent years, Star Trek, as a whole, being one of them. However, for whatever reason, DS9 seems to be less effected by that.

Overall, this was a really cool documentary and it was fun to watch. If you loved Deep Space Nine, you really should check this out. Plus, I think it is currently free on Prime.

Rating: 7.25/10

Documentary Review: Vice Versa: Chyna (2021)

Release Date: June 17th, 2021
Directed by: Marah Strauch, Erik Angra (segment director)
Written by: Marah Strauch
Music by: Ceiri Torjussen
Cast: Chyna, Mick Foley, Triple H, Kevin Nash, Drew Pinsky, various

Rock Skull, Rock Salt Releasing, Citizen Skull Productions, Vice, 90 Minutes

Review:

I’m not a big fan of Vice, overall. However, I really like Dark Side of the Ring quite a lot. I attribute that more to the showrunners and not the network, itself.

However, since they recently put out a documentary on Chyna, I figured I’d give it a watch, as their professional wrestling related content, thus far, has been exceptional.

While this didn’t captivate me on the same level of Dark Side of the Ring, it still pulled me in and held my attention. I think a lot of that has to do with Chyna’s story, though, as she lived an interesting but very sad and fucked up life. And I don’t say that lightly or to be disrespectful, it just is what it is and she was a nice person that deserved much more from life than her demons winning in the end.

This goes deep into her backstory before she entered the world of professional wrestling and it was cool finally getting to know her from that perspective.

Beyond that, it discusses her career and how it truly impacted the wrestling business. There are a lot of talking head interviews with several of her former co-workers and friends, as well as those she was most intimate with.

After the wrestling part of her life, things got really dark and I appreciate that this doesn’t gloss over it or try to play it down. This puts it all out there but at the same time, it lets Chyna talk about it and reveal why she did certain things and how having the rug pulled out from under her, professionally and romantically, really destroyed her spirit.

This starts to show you Chyna, in Japan as a teacher, where she started to get her life together and turn things around. However, after returning to the United States, probably too early, she picked up bad habits again and well, the rest is sadly history.

I always liked Chyna but I never felt like she had the right avenue to tell her story until now. Frankly, I like her even more and this is truly a heartbreaking and tragic story and it sucks that she couldn’t overcome the issues that plagued her for so long.

So this is a pretty depressing documentary but I think it’s also good in that it let her speak about this stuff and it also shows people who she was beyond the WWE’s glamor and glitz.

Rating: 7.25/10

TV Review: The Imagineering Story (2019)

Original Run: November 12th, 2019 – December 13th, 2019
Created by: Leslie Iwerks
Directed by: Leslie Iwerks
Written by: Mark Catalena
Music by: Jeffrey Kryka
Cast: Angela Bassett (narrator), various

Iwerks & Co., Disney+, 6 Episodes, 62-68 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

In the last few years, I’ve started to take many documentaries with a grain of salt. Reason being, they always have an objective and typically tend to lean towards their preconceived biases, ignoring things that may actually challenge or disprove their message.

This is especially true when a documentary about a subject is made by the subject itself. For instance, for those who know anything about the wrestling business beyond the WWE, when they watch WWE documentaries, they know that it’s from the company’s point-of-view and that they often times don’t tell the whole story, alter the story for their benefit or completely ignore or gloss over some of the darker, unpleasant things.

I’ve got to say, though, as dishonest and “woke” as Disney has become with their output, this seemed to be pretty straightforward and fairly objective. It also included many key people from Disney’s past and didn’t really seem to sugarcoat things or censor the talking heads who may have had issues with Disney after moving on by their choice or the company’s.

That being said, I enjoyed this quite a bit and binged through it over a rainy Sunday afternoon.

It talks about Disney’s Imagineers from their earliest days up to modern times. Each of the six episodes moves forward and covers a different era of the many theme parks, their creation at the earliest stages, their design and engineering challenges, as well as their birth into the world and how they were perceived by the people who worked on them, the company itself and the public, who just want the best experience money can buy.

My only real complaint about this, and it’s probably just my personal preference, is that I wish they spent more time on the earliest stuff. I honestly don’t feel like one episode on Walt Disney, the man, and the genesis of the original Disneyland was enough. Granted, each episode could’ve been beefed up to two hours apiece and I’d still find this enjoyable.

The Imagineering Story is pretty damn cool if you’re into this stuff.

Rating: 8/10

Documentary Review: Val (2021)

Release Date: July 7th, 2021 (Cannes)
Directed by: Ting Poo, Leo Scott
Written by: Val Kilmer
Music by: Garth Stevenson
Cast: Val Kilmer, Jack Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Mercedes Kilmer, various

Cartel Film Production, Boardwalk Pictures, IAC Films, A24, Amazon Studios, 109 Minutes

Review:

I have always liked Val Kilmer. As a kid, he was the cool, smart guy I wanted to be in Real Genius. Then he was the cool badass in Top Gun. After that, he was the coolest of all his characters in Willow. Beyond that, I loved him in just about everything.

Over the years, his roles have been fewer and fewer and not too long ago, he was diagnosed with throat cancer, which he beat, but chemotherapy and two tracheotomies had a very adverse effect on his speaking voice.

Kilmer had a reputation of being difficult to work with and a perfectionist. While I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to that and Kilmer has admitted to being difficult, at times, these things are usually overblown in the media and people tend to believe the narrative creating something more akin to legend than reality.

Unbeknownst to most, Kilmer has filmed his life since before he started acting. He has thousands of hours of footage and over the last decade, he started having everything backed up digitally, to preserve it, as best he could. During that process, it was decided that maybe he should put it all together in a way that would allow him to tell his own story.

Since Val has a hard time speaking, he wrote the narration for the film but had his son Jack read it. I thought that this worked quite well and it allowed Val’s words to flow from the mouth of someone close to his heart and his legacy.

Overall, this was a damn good story and I’m glad that Kilmer was able to work on something in spite of his condition and his physical limitations. This was a really personal and emotional story that allowed Kilmer to address his critics, shed light on things from his past and showcase his life from his point-of-view.

With that, there’s obviously going to be a bit of bias in the film but I think that Kilmer is pretty open about his feelings, his thoughts, his motivations and revealing the lessons he’s learned throughout his pretty interesting life.

Most importantly, this was engaging and entertaining. Beyond that, it was a very human story and while some may see Kilmer now and feel like his best days are behind him, I think the man has a pretty bright future ahead of him due to how he’s adapted well to his adversity and because of the love of those around him.

Rating: 8/10