Documentary Review: Special When Lit (2009)

Release Date: October 1st, 2009 (Raindance Film Festival – UK)
Directed by: Brett Sullivan
Music by: Brett Sullivan
Cast: Roger Sharpe, Rick Stetta, Sam Harvey, Steve Epstein, Gary Stern, Lyman Sheats Jr., Tim Arnold, Josh Kaplan, Pat Lawlor, Steve Ritchie, Steve Kordek, Steve Keeler, Raphael Lankar, Koi Morris, Al Thomka

Stream Motion and Sound, PBS International, 97 Minutes

Review:

I’ve always been a fan of pinball and arcade games in general. When I grew up in the ’80s it was hard not to be captivated by these things as gaming machines of all types were everywhere you went, even in a small town like mine.

Because of that, I was excited to see this documentary back when it first came out. It also came out in a time when pinball and video game documentaries were at an all-time high, probably due to the 2007 cult hit The King of Kong.

This delves into the history of pinball and it covers a lot of ground but it is mostly focused on the mid-’70s and beyond. It touches on the history before that but I actually would’ve liked to have seen more of its early history, as well. But there are other documentaries that cover that.

For the most part, this is simply talking head interviews edited together to tell a story. It’s well organized and edited and the whole documentary runs smoothly, as it looks at the fan side of pinball, the corporate side and the competitive side. All bases are pretty much covered and everything is given a good amount of time.

Now I don’t know how much this will resonate with everyone but if you’ve got an interest in the subject, it’s certainly worth a watch, as it’s full of colorful, entertaining characters and it’ll probably make you want to go collect your quarters and find the nearest machine to play.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about pinball and arcade games, many have been reviewed here already.

Documentary Review: De Palma (2015)

Release Date: September 9th, 2015 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow
Cast: Brian De Palma

Empire Ward Pictures, A24, 110 Minutes

Review:

I watched three of Brian De Palma’s neo-noir thrillers two months back when I was celebrating the month of Noirvember. It was the first time that I had seen Dressed to Kill, Blow Out and Body Double and all three of them instantly became favorites of mine but in different ways. But they also inspired me to give this documentary about the man’s work a watch. And since this had been in my queue for a few years, I felt it was long overdue.

Sometimes documentaries about director’s careers can be bogged down by talking head interviews and choppily edited insight that the documentary director is using to make their point. However, this one just features Brian De Palma talking about his films and because of that, this was a spectacular filmmaking documentary.

To start, I like the vast majority of the man’s films, especially his work in the ’70s and ’80s. And what’s really awesome is that he spends a good amount of time talking about each film in his oeuvre: going through the behind the scenes details, the casting, the story ideas and the inspiration behind his work.

De Palma is a charismatic and interesting guy and having just him in this was a treat. Sure, I’d like to hear from some of the actors he worked with, as well as his peers, but I’m sure there will eventually be another De Palma documentary that allows others to discuss the man and his stellar work.

As far as I know, this is the only real comprehensive piece about De Palma’s whole career but this is a damn fine film that accomplishes what it set out to do, as it shined a light on some of the greatest motion pictures of all-time.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about other iconic filmmakers’ total bodies of work: Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures and Magician: The Astonishing Life & Work of Orson Welles.

Documentary Review: Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe (2014)

Release Date: March 18th, 2014
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Hayley Atwell, Shane Black, Kenneth Branagh, Dominic Cooper, Vin Diesel, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Jon Favreau, Kevin Feige, Clark Gregg, James Gunn, Chris Hardwick, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Joe Johnston, Louis Leterrier, Jeph Loeb, Anthony Mackie, George R.R. Martin, Tom Morello, Bobby Moynihan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Pratt, Joe Quesada, Robert Redford, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, Ming-Na Wen, Jed Whedon, Joss Whedon, Edgar Wright (uncredited)

ABC Studios, Disney, Marvel, 42 Minutes

Review:

After watching the beefy but solid Star Wars documentary Empire of Dreams, I noticed that Disney+ also featured a similar made-for-TV documentary about the making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I figured I’d check it out, as it originally aired in 2014, on the cusp of the MCU reaching its peak.

Unfortunately, this isn’t as compelling as Empire of Dreams and it plays more like a Marvel produced production used mainly to pimp themselves out and market Captain America: Winter Solider and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. But I get it, this played on ABC, which like Marvel, is owned by Disney.

It’s still an informative piece with a lot of insight into the making of the first Iron Man movie, which opened the floodgates for the rest of the MCU.

It also expands beyond that and delves a little bit into each movie up to the then still in-production Guardians of the Galaxy. In fact, I think that this was the first real peek into the Guardians of the Galaxy production.

The best part about this short feature is the interviews with the stars and filmmakers who helped bring this universe to life. I especially liked hearing the enthusiasm that Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau had with the early Iron Man pictures.

Overall, this isn’t a must watch but it’s worth your time if you are a big MCU fan.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other filmmaking documentaries about blockbusters. Empire of Dreams, immediately comes to mind.

Documentary Review: Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy (2004)

Also known as: Empire of Dreams (shortened title)
Release Date: September 12th, 2004
Directed by: Kevin Burns, Edith Becker
Written by: Ed Singer
Music by: John Williams
Cast: George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, Warwick Davis, Frank Oz, Lawrence Kasdan, John Williams, Joe Johnston, Ralph McQuarrie, Alan Ladd Jr., Irvin Kershner, Steven Spielberg, Walter Cronkite

Prometheus Entertainment, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox, A&E, 151 Minutes, 120 Minutes (TV Edit)

Review:

“I think George likes people, I think George is a warm-hearted person, but… he’s a little impatient with the process of acting, of finding something. He thinks that something’s there. “It’s right there, I wrote it down. Do that”. You know, sometimes you can’t just “do that” and make it work.” – Harrison Ford

I can’t believe that it’s been fifteen years since this documentary came out. It was the selling point of getting me to buy the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD though, as I had already owned the movies several times over, in all their incarnations, but wanted to have this documentary to keep and rewatch over the years.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen it but it’s available on Prime Video, as well as Disney+ now.

Seeing this again sparked something in me that I hadn’t felt since Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005. It was that feeling of wonder, excitement and childlike awe. Disney is incapable of generating that sensation in me since they took over the Star Wars franchise and honestly, it’s mostly dead to me.

Empire of Dreams brought me back to where I was though from my childhood and into my twenties when I had a deep love for everything Star Wars. But most importantly, this showed me how much better the original movies were compared to Disney’s schlock and the shoddy prequels.

If Disney tried to make an Empire of Dreams followup about their new trilogy, would anyone care? Well, anyone with actual taste that was alive when the original Star Wars phenomenon was still alive and strong? I mean, how interesting would that documentary even be? And do you really even care about seeing any of the modern Star Wars actors and filmmakers talking about these new movies?

Empire of Dreams does a stupendous job of delving deep into the creation of one of the greatest film franchises of all-time. But seeing it with 2019 eyes, it more importantly shows you just how magical the Star Wars brand once was before Disney retrofitted it for an audience of wine moms and broke social justice warriors who can’t afford to buy the merch in the first place.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the original Star Wars trilogy and other Star Wars documentaries.

Documentary Review: Tommaso Ciampa: Blackheart (2019)

Release Date: October 9th, 2019
Cast: Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Triple H

WWE Network, 29 Minutes

Review:

I like Tommaso Ciampa and was pretty bummed when he got hurt earlier this year and didn’t get to pass the torch to his best friend in a match that most assuredly would have been another classic between the two.

That being said, I’m now really glad that he’s back and doing his thing.

However, his injury and road to recovery were pretty tough things to deal with and roadblocks he had to overcome in order to get back to where he was before he had to leave.

This short documentary was made for the WWE Network and it focuses on Ciampa before surgery and how he is putting more focus into his family during his time off.

It’s a pretty good piece and it shows the man in a light that most people haven’t seen him in.

Overall, I thought it was actually too short and that there was a bigger story to tell.

Regardless, it’s worth checking out if you are a fan of the guy and want to see a peek at what he’s like beyond his character.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: WWE 365 and WWE 24.

Documentary Review: Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen (2004)

Release Date: September 4th, 2004 (Germany)
Directed by: Michael Palm
Written by: Michael Palm
Cast: Edgar G. Ulmer (voice, archive footage), Peter Bogdanovich, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, John Landis, Ann Savage, John Saxon, William Schallert, Arianne Ulmer, Tom Weaver, Wim Wenders

Edgar G. Ulmer Preservation Corporation, Mischief Films, Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), 77 Minutes

Review:

While I was perusing the offerings on the Criterion Channel, I came across this documentary about filmmaker, Edgar G. Ulmer.

This guy made magic in three of my favorite genres: horror, science fiction and film-noir. I believe that this documentary may actually be included on the Criterion Collection version of Detour.

What’s neat about it is that it features interviews and conversations with a lot of well known directors and actors that worked with or were influenced by Ulmer’s work behind the camera.

This also features his daughter who gives more intimate details on Ulmer, his life, her life as his daughter, as well as talking about her time in front of the camera with her father directing.

I really liked the conversation here between Joe Dante and John Landis. I also enjoyed the parts with John Saxon, Ann Savage, Roger Corman and Wim Wenders.

This was just a solid piece of work that really went through the man’s career with insight from some of the people who were there and others who had their own unique insight.

I couldn’t find a trailer for the documentary, so I put a trailer for Detour below, as it is my favorite Edgar G. Ulmer picture.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about horror, sci-fi and noir filmmakers.

Documentary Review: Portrait: Orson Welles (1968)

Release Date: June, 1968
Directed by: François Reichenbach, Frédéric Rossif
Written by: Maurice Bessy, François Reichenbach, Frédéric Rossif
Cast: Orson Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Pierre Vaneck (narrator)

41 Minutes

Review:

Orson Welles has always fascinated me. Well, at least since I learned about him extensively in my high school film studies course.

Luckily, there are a ton of biographies and documentaries about the man and his work.

This documentary is unique though, as it was made for French television in the ’60s. I guess it didn’t actually air and was sort of lost to time and only resurfaced after being included in a Criterion Collection featuring some of Welles’ work.

The short film doesn’t play like a standard biographical documentary, though. It really just follows Welles around a bit, talking about his struggles in getting his art made, while also editing in some clips of Welles interviews.

This is a pretty up close and personal peek into Welles’ life at the time that this was made and honestly, it feels kind of like a time capsule.

While I wouldn’t call this a spectacular piece or the best of the many Welles documentaries, it is still worth a look for those who feel like they may want to see the man, as himself, more intimately.

I also couldn’t find a trailer for this short ’60s documentary, probably because one doesn’t exist, so I instead posted one of my favorite Welles scenes of all-time.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Orson Welles documentaries, which there are plenty of.