Documentary Review: In Search of Steve Ditko (2007)

Release Date: September 16th, 2007 (UK)
Directed by: Peter Boyd Maclean
Cast: Jonathan Ross (host), Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Stan Lee, Joe Quesada, Mark Millar, John Romita Sr.

Hot Sauce, BBC, 59 Minutes

Review:

In Search of Steve Ditko was a one hour documentary special hosted by Jonathan Ross in 2007. It aired on one of the BBC channels but I’m not sure which one. I’ve had a DVD-R of it for a decade though and I figured I should revisit it, especially since Ditko passed, earlier this year.

Also, it’s on YouTube, so anyone can watch it if they want to.

The purpose of this documentary was two fold.

First, Ross wanted to do a biography piece on Ditko and interviewed a lot of other iconic creators to talk about him.

Second, Ross wanted to track down Ditko and meet him, possibly for an interview, but mostly to express his love of the man’s work.

While Ross does get to meet his hero, it happens off camera and we don’t get to see the reclusive Ditko appear. I’m fine with that even if others may be let down, as I believe in respecting the man’s privacy. And if you love Ditko, this is still a fine retrospective on his career and his influence on the comic book medium.

There are some great interviews here with Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Mark Millar, John Romita Sr. and even Stan Lee, who discusses who should get the credit for creating Spider-Man.

All in all, this was a good watch and for fans of Ditko, this is a nice, quick rundown of the importance of his work in comics.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other comic book documentaries like The Image Revolution and Chris Claremont’s X-Men.

Documentary Review: Lon Chaney: Behind the Mask (1996)

Release Date: 1996
Directed by: Bret Wood (uncredited)
Written by: Bret Wood

Kino International, 75 Minutes

Review:

Lon Chaney Sr. was really the first horror icon. So his story is quite an interesting one.

This documentary does a decent job of giving context to Chaney’s work and a bit about his life.

However, like many older documentaries about old school Hollywood legends, this doesn’t do much to excite you about its subject or that subject’s body or work.

This is more academic and informative than it is exciting. I feel like film history documentaries have gotten much better in the last decade or so. At least, much better than the slew of ’90s PBS style documentaries that I grew up with.

I don’t want to sound like I’m trashing this film, as I enjoyed it and found a lot of it interesting but it was pretty dry and relied on playing old footage too much.

If you are a big fan of the man’s work, this is worth a look but if I’m being frank, I wish someone in the modern era would work on a documentary worthy of the man’s stature.

Also, no trailers are available that I can embed here, so I put something cooler at the bottom.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other biographical documentaries on Chaney, as well as other legends of the silent era. There are a ton of documentaries like this one.

Documentary Review: Future Shock: The Story of 2000 A.D. (2014)

Release Date: September 21st, 2014 (Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Paul Goodwin
Cast: Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Dan Abnett, Brian Bolland, Carlos Ezquerra, Alex Garland, Dave Gibbons, Scott Ian, Karl Urban, Nacho Vigalondo, various

Deviant Films, 110 Minutes

Review:

I don’t know if I’m just burnt out on these type of documentaries but this one didn’t keep my attention.

Reason being, it didn’t tell a story, really. It did go through the history of 2000 A.D. but everything was done in a heavily edited interview format. There was no narration and this felt kind of disorganized.

Being an American and not as familiar with this comic as someone from the UK, I was hoping for a good, comprehensive history on this. It probably works well for UK fans but Stateside I felt like it missed the mark.

Granted, it was cool seeing a bunch of creators, whose work I love, talking about 2000 A.D. with a lot of passion. I liked seeing the bits on Judge Dread and the stufff involving Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison. Their two cents are always worth the price of admission when it comes to talking about comics of the past.

Still, even though this was full of people I wanted to hear from, it was quite long for what this needed to be and for how it was presented.

Maybe get some narration, organize the sections a bit better and tell a more cohesive story.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other comic book documentaries of the last few years.

Documentary Review: Comic-Con – Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope (2011)

Release Date: September 10th, 2011 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Morgan Spurlock
Written by: Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock, Joss Whedon
Music by: Jeff Peters
Cast: Joss Whedon, Guillermo del Toro, Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, Kenneth Branagh, Eli Roth, Seth Rogen, Thomas Jane, Seth Green, Edgar Wright, Corey Feldman, Paul Scheer, Todd McFarlane, Matt Groening, Frank Miller, Gerard Way, Grant Morrison, Paul Dini, Joe Quesada, various

Mutant Enemy, Thomas Tull Productions, Warrior Poets, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I think the fans are the most important thing in the comic book business. And I might add, in any form of entertainment. I feel… you gotta be nice to the fans because without them… you’re nothing.” – Stan Lee

Here we go, these nerdy fan documentaries are a dime a dozen but I guess this one got some recognition for being well produced and for featuring a slew of famous nerd-centric personalities.

I didn’t know that this was a Morgan Spurlock film until I was already watching it. Had I known that, I probably wouldn’t have watched it. Reason being, I think the guy’s a f’n hack and disingenuous. His most popular film Super Size Me was unwatchable to anyone that can see through a ruse, which it was. It wasn’t science, it wasn’t a real test to see how fast food effects you, it was one man’s entertaining mockumentary, sold as a legit documentary and damnation of the fast food industry. His documentary series on FX was also mostly a big bullshit endeavor where he went into everything with a bias then cherry picked info and edited everything down to the narrative he wanted. He’s the reason behind the modern alteration to an old phrase, “No shit, Spurlock!”

Anyway, this is exactly what you’d think it is. A bunch of famous nerdy types talk about their nerdy shit and their love for the San Diego Comic Con, which is barely about comic books at this point and isn’t anywhere near as cool as it once was. You missed the boat by a decade or so, Spurlock.

The only thing I really liked about this was seeing the behind the scenes stuff on cosplay. I don’t normally give a shit about cosplay but it was interesting to see, nonetheless.

As far as the interviewees, the only one that stuck with me was Stan Lee. Everything else was edited so choppy that the vast majority of comments could have been things out of context and then just thrown together for Spurlock to manufacture whatever narrative he was going for. Stan Lee’s bit was heartwarming though but that’s because he’s Stan Lee and he always has eloquent shit to say.

You’d probably be alright if you never watched this. It doesn’t do anything to inspire you to go to San Diego Comic Con. If anything, it told me to stay away because I like comics and don’t give a crap about massive celebrity panels or Joss Whedon publicly ranting about lefty hysteria.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: any of the dozens of other documentaries about nerd conventions or nerdy hobbies, there are so many.

Documentary Review: Birth of the Tramp (2013)

Also known as: La naissance de Charlot (original French title), How Chaplin Became the Tramp (alternate title)
Release Date: December 29th, 2013 (France)
Directed by: Serge Bromberg, Eric Lange
Music by: Robert Israel
Cast: Charlie Chaplin (archive footage)

Arte France, Lobster Films, Roy Export Company Establishment, 52 Minutes, 61 Minutes (extended TV edition)

Review:

There are a ton of documentaries on Charlie Chaplin. They are literally a dime a dozen and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad one but a lot of the information has been recycled a dozen times over. I’ve yet to see one that is exceptional, however.

That being said, this isn’t an exceptional one either but it is still a quick, entertaining watch and it pretty much just gets into his background and early career up to the point where he was about 30 years-old.

The focus of this was about how Chaplin evolved into his famous Tramp character. I like that this was character focused more so than on his general life or general filmmaking. It does cover those things but it’s more focused on the iconic Tramp persona.

This had good interviews and was well edited. The narrative flows nicely but I wish that this was actually fleshed out more. It just seemed a bit rushed for just a 52 minute piece.

Still, if you are a fan of Chaplin or the silent era of filmmaking, this is worth checking out. Also, it’s streaming for free for Prime members on Amazon Video.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: any of the various other documentaries on Charlie Chaplin, as well as his original films and the biopic Chaplin with Robert Downey Jr. as Chaplin.

 

Documentary Review: Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2017)

Release Date: September 9th, 2017 (Power-Con premiere)
Directed by: Randall Lobb, Robert McCallum
Written by: Randall Lobb, Robert McCallum
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, various others

Definitive Films,FauxPop Media,Pyre Productions USA, 95 Minutes

Review:

This documentary recently dropped on Netflix, so being that Masters of the Universe was one of my first loves as a kid, I definitely wanted to check this out.

Power of Grayskull does a nice job of telling the He-Man and Masters of the Universe story from before its conception up to modern times. It even spends a good amount of time on the motion picture, which I still love, even if it took tremendous liberties and wasn’t quite the Masters of the Universe that I knew.

The first part of this is very similar to the Masters of the Universe episode of the Netflix show The Toys That Made Us. It talks about where Mattel was at, going into the early ’80s, and all the events leading up to them needing to develop a solid toy property for young boys.

This gets into more detail than that TV episode though, as this isn’t whittled down to television length. It spends more time discussing the key players involved and the steps taken as the franchise expanded into new toys, a second show called She-Ra: Princess of Power, the 1987 live action movie, what happened when the property started to cool off and how it still finds a way to circle back around and have some success.

The highlight of this whole thing was the portion that was devoted to the live action movie. At least, it’s what I found most interesting. Especially, since Dolph Lundgren and Frank Langella did interviews and both stated their love of working on the motion picture.

If you are a fan of Masters of the Universe, this is a cool documentary to check out. It brought me down memory lane and even reminded me of characters I had forgotten.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other documentaries on specific fandoms: Turtle Power, Ghostheads and the Netlfix TV series The Toys That Made Us.

 

Documentary Review: Action Heroes of the Cliffhanger Serials (1992)

Release Date: 1992

89 Minutes

Review:

Weirdly, even IMDb doesn’t have much info on this release, which is why I have barely any info in the credits section.

Also, this isn’t really a documentary like I had hoped it would be. It sort of starts out as one and then it is just a collection of trailers from old school action serials.

Now I love old school action serials and I have reviewed more than a dozen since starting this site back in November of 2016 but I would like to know more about them, their development and how the whole system worked from a production standpoint.

This “documentary” doesn’t tap into that and unless you want to watch 90 minutes worth of trailers, it’s sort of a waste of time. Honestly, I’d rather just watch the serials themselves.

So it’s hard to review this but I wanted to let everyone know what this is if they happen to come across it streaming for free on Amazon Video.

If anyone knows of a good documentary on old school action serials, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to see one and review it.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: The actual serials it features.