Documentary Review: Leaving Neverland (2019)

Also known as: Leaving Neverland: Michael Jackson and Me (UK)
Release Date: January 25th, 2019 (Sundance Film Festival)
Directed by: Dan Reed
Music by: Chad Hobson
Cast: Michael Jackson (archive footage), Wade Robson, Jimmy Safechuck

Amos Pictures, HBO, Channel 4, Kew Media, 236 Minutes, 182 Minutes (UK)

Review:

So, yeah… I had to watch this because there has been so much controversy around this documentary.

First off, if you take this documentary at face value and don’t go through the details with a fine tooth comb, it’s pretty convincing and pretty damning. But like all documentaries, this one had its agenda and it had to hit its points home without there being any counterpoints to what was presented as “fact”.

To be blunt, this is incredibly one-sided and hopefully, people are astute enough to see the forest for the trees, even if the two alleged victims that are featured in this documentary come off as genuine. And I do think they do come off as genuine or they are just damn good actors and deserve every Oscar next year.

I’m not saying that the victims are lying and I don’t want to doubt them, assuming their stories are true. But there are a lot of holes and when looking at the facts that are presented here, some of them don’t line up with details that are already public knowledge.

One example I should point out, is that Jimmy Safechuck’s mom says that she danced for joy when Michael Jackson died in 2009 because he couldn’t sexually abuse anymore children. However, Safechuck never told his mom that Jackson abused him until he was inspired by Wade Robson coming forward in 2013. And this is just one of several things that don’t add up when you take these victims’ stories at face value and look at other important factors like the actual timeline of events.

This was a compelling documentary and I am certainly not dismissing the possibility that Michael Jackson sexually abused children but if the victims’ stories are to be believed, there are a lot of plot holes and details that need to be ironed out.

The biggest problem, is that I can’t take any of this at face value because looking beyond this documentary as entertainment, which is what it is designed to be, as fucked up as that is, these stories come apart when you do any research beyond what is laid out and spoon fed to the audience for four whopping hours. But then, you can see that things don’t add up just within this movie, if you are actually paying attention to the finer points. Plus, the movie isn’t exactly clear on the dates of events it discusses, except where something happens around an event known by the mass populace like the release of an album or actual trials.

I’m not on either side of the debate here. However, it is pretty damn weird that Michael Jackson spent so much time with kids behind closed doors without parents around. But even if Jackson was a predator, the fault really lands right in the parents’ laps.

I don’t want to doubt the story of any victim but we live in a country where you are innocent until proven guilty and when details don’t add up or make sense, that’s more than enough for me to dismiss whatever story is being sold to me.

This was shoddy filmmaking where the film’s own director shot himself in the foot by not catching contradicting details. It was agenda driven, didn’t offer up anything fair and balanced and presented no real evidence other than the stories of two victims, stretched to an ungodly length.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: various other documentaries about Michael Jackson.

Documentary Review: Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary (2017)

Release Date: January 13th, 2017
Directed by: John Campopiano, Justin White
Written by: John Campopiano, Justin White
Music by: Douglas Harper, Kurt Oldman
Cast: Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby, Mary Lambert, Miko Hughes, Blaze Berdahl, Brad Greenquist, Stephen King, Heather Langenkamp

Ocean’s Light Productions, 75 Minutes

Review:

Sometimes documentaries about movies are better than the movies themselves. While some people love Pet Sematary, it’s not one of my favorites. But since I just revisited it and reviewed it, I wanted to check out this documentary about its creation.

I love documentaries about filmmaking and storytelling. So this was right up my alley.

What’s really interesting about this is the backstory about the novel and what inspired Stephen King to write it in the first place. Also, the novel’s story is pretty neat too, as it goes into how the publisher wouldn’t put it out due to it featuring the death of a child. But ultimately, the book did see print and eventually led to the film, which also went through some of its own issues in getting green lit.

Unfortunately, Fred Gwynne died a few years after the movie came out but this documentary still rounds up the entire cast apart from the great veteran actor. I loved hearing them share their experiences.

This also delves into the impact the film’s production had on the small Maine community where it was filmed.

One of the highlights for me, was the production footage and photos of the behind the scenes stuff from constructing a spooky house to how they did the make up and special effects, as well as rounding up a lot of the key behind the scenes people to talk about it at great length.

In a way, this actually made me appreciate the finished film more than I did before seeing what went into it being produced. So maybe I’ll watch it again soon.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Pet Sematary and Pet Sematary Two, also any Stephen King movies from the ’70s through ’90s.

Documentary Review: Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019)

Release Date: February 7th, 2019
Directed by: Xavier Burgin
Written by: Ashlee Blackwell, Danielle Burrows
Based on: Horror Noire by Robin R. Means Coleman
Music by: Timothy Day
Cast: Robin R. Means Coleman, Ashlee Blackwell, Rusty Cundieff, Keith David, Ernest R. Dickerson, Ken Foree, Richard Lawson, Kelly Jo Minter, Miguel A. Nunez Jr., Paula Jai Parker, Jordan Peele, Ken Sagoes, Tony Todd, Rachel True

Stage 3 Productions, Shudder, 83 Minutes

Review:

I’ve seen quite a few documentaries on the history of horror as well as ones on blaxploitation and grindhouse movies. What makes this a unique film is that it examines the history of black horror, specifically.

This is well organized, fabulously presented and the thing that really gives this a lot of life is all the people that they were able to bring in and chat about the subject matter.

Also, this was told from the perspective of black people. We were able to see how certain things in movie history effected them, which is refreshing when most documentaries that cover black cinema usually feature a lot of white voices trying to interpret what they assume black people were feeling.

I think that this film gave a lot of clarity to the cultural impact of certain horror tropes regarding minority characters, as well as Hollywood tropes about race in general.

Most importantly, this honors the films it features, as well as all the talent that worked behind the scenes and on the screen.

This is a Shudder exclusive but between this, the new Joe Bob Briggs show and all their great horror film selections, you should already be subscribed. Plus, it’s cheaper than all those other streaming services.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other retrospective documentaries on horror and blaxploitation cinema.

Documentary Review: The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? (2015)

Release Date: April 30th, 2015 (limited)
Directed by: Jon Schnepp
Written by: Jon Schnepp
Music by: Frederick William Scott
Cast: Nicolas Cage (archive footage), Tim Burton, Kevin Smith

Super Skull Ship, 104 Minutes

Review:

Superman Lives was a film that never happened but I have always been intrigued by what it could have been.

Years ago, there was a picture of a long haired Nicolas Cage in a Superman costume with his eyes half shut; it looked really bizarre. Most fans of superhero films have probably seen this famous picture at some point or another. But that really set the stage for what this bizarre interpretation of Superman was.

Hearing that Tim Burton was working on the movie and that Kevin Smith had written a script for it, made this project even more bizarre. Burton had a falling out with the studio after issues arose during the production of what would have been his third Batman movie and Smith was a comic book fanboy that was mostly known for his stoner comedies that featured Jay and Silent Bob.

No one seemed to know much else about this strange project though. So once I heard about this documentary, I had a very strong desire to check it out, especially since we got to hear the details from the mouths of Burton and Smith.

On one hand, this was a truly strange motion picture but on the other hand, it wasn’t as insane as one might think if they saw that photo of Nic Cage.

This documentary was pretty solid and it covered a lot of ground from a lot of different angles. Everyone has their own version of the events and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle but this was an interesting story, nonetheless.

I’m actually glad that the film didn’t get made and that we got Superman Returns instead of this, even if it’s far from a perfect film. Superman Lives wasn’t really in tune with what Superman is. It could have been an insane and awesome motion picture in its own way and maybe the creators should revisit this concept as a movie for a new character that isn’t one that already comes with 80 years of his own lore built in.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about superhero filmmaking or films that never materialized: Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four or Jodorowsky’s Dune for instance.

Documentary Review: The Lost Arcade (2015)

Also known as: Arcade (working title)
Release Date: November 14th, 2015 (DOC NYC)
Directed by: Kurt Vincent
Written by: Irene Chin
Music by: Gil Talmi

26 Aries, Wheelhouse Creative, 79 Minutes

Review:

I had a high school friend that used to talk about all the great video game arcades in New York City. By the mid-’90s, he was living in Southwest Florida but his stories of these really cool and iconic places always made me want to go check them out. I never got to though, as they started shutting down, one after the other. But at least the Chinatown Fair was going strong. But then a few years ago, it had to shut its doors and I never got that authentic NYC arcade experience.

This documentary covers the ’80s and ’90s NYC arcade scene but mostly focuses on the Chinatown Fair and the love that the local gamers had for the last real bastion of coin-op gaming culture.

Several people are interviewed for this documentary and it does a great job of telling their stories and showing their love for the Chinatown Fair.

I didn’t go into this documentary expecting much, I just wanted to feel a little bit of nostalgia for old school arcade gaming and I was hoping that people’s love for this iconic spot would at least tell an interesting story.

It really hits you in the feels though, as everyone’s passion comes through the screen. I think that anyone that used to have a special place that used to make them feel great can relate to the film. Most of us have lost something from our youth that truly made us happy. This film is more about coping with that loss and trying to move past it than it is just about the great Chinatown Fair.

This is an engaging documentary. It pulls you in and makes you see things through the eyes and experiences of its subjects. That’s really what any good documentary should do and this succeeds at just that.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other video game documentaries from recent years: The King of Kong, Chasing Ghosts, The Art of the Game, Indie Game: The Movie, Free to Play, Ecstasy of Order, Special When Lit, etc.

Documentary Review: Jack Kirby: Story Teller (2007)

Release Date: June 5th, 2007
Cast: Neal Adams, Jim Lee, Stan Lee, Jeph Loeb, John Romita Sr., Alex Ross, Tim Sale, Walter Simonson, Bruce Timm, Len Wein, Barry Windsor-Smith, Marv Wolfman

Marvel Studios, Sparkhill Production, 20th Century Fox, 64 Minutes

Review:

I’ve been watching through a lot of comic book documentaries on YouTube, lately. I came across this one that discusses the work and legacy of Jack Kirby.

I’m not sure if this was made as a special feature on a DVD, as it was produced by Marvel and 20th Century Fox. Maybe it was included on one of the Fantastic Four DVD releases a decade ago.

Anyway, if you appreciate and admire the great work of Jack Kirby, this is a really engaging documentary.

It is rather short, considering the long career of the man but it does cover a lot of ground. It also interviews a lot of other comic book greats that worked with Kirby or were inspired by him.

This feels like a quickly thrown together low budget fluff piece and if I’m being honest, Jack Kirby deserves a proper documentary or a real biopic. As much as this does talk about how much Jack did, I still don’t feel like it captures the real importance and scale of it all.

But this is still a worthwhile watch because there really isn’t anything better… yet.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other comic book industry biographical documentaries.

Documentary Review: Crumb (1994)

Release Date: September 10th, 1994 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Terry Zwigoff
Music by: David Boeddinghaus
Cast: Robert Crumb, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Charles Crumb, Jack Harrington

Sony Pictures Classics, 120 Minutes

Review:

Robert Crumb is a pretty intriguing guy. He’s one of the greatest cartoonists of his generation and he made several iconic comic strips that will go on to outlive him. The man is such a unique character that he can carry this documentary on his own.

And I guess that’s a pretty good thing as this film just sort of follows him around on average days. It doesn’t really go too much into his work and his impact, it kind of just assumes that you already know who he is. Some important career things are mentioned and discussed a bit but this really is more or less “a day in the life of…” than a retrospective or biographical work.

But that’s kind of a problem for me.

You see, I know who Robert Crumb is, I am familiar with his more famous work but this film should have had a lot more about why this guy is important, as I feel like the layperson might not pick up on it. They may just see this and go, “Oh, that guy is good at making art caricatures and stuff” and then not really appreciate the context of what’s happening on screen and why Crumb is a pretty important cultural figure.

This is enjoyable but for something lacking context and narrative depth, it’s too long. There just isn’t enough meat, even though director Terry Zwigoff is feeding you a pretty large meal.

I need more protein and less filler, thank you.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Comic Book ConfidentialIn Search of Steve Ditko and other older comic book documentaries.