Documentary Review: In Search of Darkness: Part II (2020)

Release Date: October 6th, 2020
Directed by: David A. Weiner
Written by: David A. Weiner
Music by: Weary Pines
Cast: Nancy Allen, Tom Atkins, Joe Bob Briggs, Doug Bradley, Clancy Brown, Lori Cardille, John Carpenter, Nick Castle, Larry Cohen, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Sean S. Cunningham, Joe Dante, Keith David, Robert Englund, Stuart Gordon, Andre Gower, Kane Hodder, Tom Holland, Chris Jericho, Jackie Kong, Heather Langenkamp, Don Mancini, Harry Manfredini, Kelli Maroney, Bill Moseley, Greg Nicotero, Cassandra Peterson, Diana Prince, Linnea Quigley, James Rolfe, Robert Rusler, Tom Savini, Corey Taylor, Gedde Watanabe, Caroline Williams, Alex Winter, Tom Woodruff Jr., Brian Yuzna

CreatorVC, 263 Minutes

Review:

Everything I said in my review of the first film in this series still holds true for this one. Reason being, they’re exactly the same in what they are. It’s just that each one features different films.

I think that I like this one a wee bit better for two reasons.

The first, is that I already know what I’m getting into now. I know that this will just fly through dozens of films and not give them the proper amount of time they deserve. As I said in the previous film’s review, I’d love to see each section spread out into a full episode and have these films actually be a streaming series.

The second reason, is that I like that the films are getting more obscure, as there were a few here I hadn’t heard of. With that, I walked away from this with a list of shit I need to watch and review.

Apart from that, this was more of the same. That’s not a bad thing, at all. I just wish that these documentaries didn’t fly through films and other topics so quickly.

I still like these, though. I know there’s a third one coming, which I look forward to, and there’s also one coming out on ’80s sci-fi flicks.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other documentaries in the In Search of… series, as well as other documentaries on ’80s horror.

Documentary Review: The Last Blockbuster (2020)

Release Date: December 15th, 2020
Directed by: Taylor Morden
Written by: Zeke Kamm
Cast: Lauren Lapkus (narrator), Kevin Smith, Doug Benson, Ron Funches, Adam Brody, Samm Levine, Paul Scheer, Brian Posehn, Jamie Kennedy, Ione Skye, Lloyd Kaufman, various

September Club, Popmotion Pictures, 1091 Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

I stumbled across this on Netflix and I was definitely interested in checking it out but it had Kevin Smith’s mug all over it and in the 2020s, that’s a big turnoff for me. That dude’s usually crying and drooling these days and it’s creepy and f’n weird. But luckily, he wasn’t a weeping, insufferable asshole in this and he’s also not in it too much. He’s just one of about a dozen celebrities who popped up to tell their personal stories about Blockbuster Video.

So this is a film about the last Blockbuster store in existence, which runs independently now, and it’s also about the history of video stores in the US from the original mom and pop shops to the mega chains like Blockbuster. In just under 90 minutes, this surprisingly covers a lot.

As I stated in the first paragraph, this also features about a dozen celebrities who talk about what Blockbuster meant to them and a few of them worked in one or simply spent a lot of time in the store.

Overall, this was a solid, fun and positive experience. You come to know the woman who runs the last store, her family, her employees and what the store means to its community and the community’s history.

You also see what it takes to run the store in an era where it’s not as easy to acquire DVDs and Blu-rays because we now live in an age of streaming. We also learn that to use the Blockbuster name, the store has to get permission, annually, from the large corporation that still holds the trademark on the brand.

I think the real highlight for me was hearing the stories from the dozen or so people that were interviewed. For those who visited the last Blockbuster, it was great seeing them overcome with joy, stepping into a legitimate time capsule.

Whether you were a big fan of Blockbuster or just video stores in general, this will definitely give you a hearty helping of warm nostalgia.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other recent documentaries about retro pop culture things.

Documentary Review: Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal (2003)

Release Date: March 16th, 2003
Directed by: James P. Taylor Jr.
Written by: J.V. Martin
Music by: Mark Leggett
Cast: Peter Tomarken (presenter), various

Termite Art Productions, FremantleMedia, Game Show Network, 83 Minutes

Review:

“On May 19, 1984, a dubious kind of history was made. An unemployed ice cream truck driver took a major television network on a ride no one watching would ever forget.” – Peter Tomarken

I’ve known about this story for years but I didn’t know that a documentary was ever made about it. Apparently, the Game Show Network did just that in 2003 and it was also hosted by former Press Your Luck host, Peter Tomarken.

This also brought back the other two contestants from the famous duo of episodes that saw Michael Larson take the game show to the cleaners after memorizing the patterns on the board and using that knowledge and great timing to go on a legendary run unlike anything anyone had seen before it.

This documentary uses a mix of old game show footage, talking head interviews and dramatizations to tell the story of Michael Larson. It shows the viewer what was behind his motivation, how his obsession ruined personal relationships and how his life became a driven by greed.

Over the course of this documentary, we get to see both of the episodes in their entirety with unaired footage added back in. With that, it shows us, step-by-step, how Larson decoded the board and outwitted the show’s producers and ran away with the network’s money.

This was really damn intriguing for something made for television by a gimmick cable network. In fact, it was so well done and presented, I want to see if the Game Show Network has made other similar films based off of other scandals.

Still, no game show scandal was quite like this one. 

Rating: 6.5/10

TV Review: In Search of… (1977-1982)

Original Run: April 17th, 1977 – March 1st, 1982
Created by: Alan Landsburg Productions
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Laurin Rinder, W. Michael Lewis, Mike Lewis
Cast: Leonard Nimoy (presenter, host, narrator)

Alan Landsburg Productions, Rhodes Productions, *syndicated, 144 Episodes, 23 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

While it’s been decades since I’ve seen this show, I used to watch it in the late ’80s and early ’90s, where it would rerun on late night syndication. It was a favorite of mine, as were many of the television shows, back then, that dealt with ghosts, aliens, cryptids and other cool, unexplainable mysteries.

Out of all of these shows, though, this one was always my favorite. That probably has a lot to do with Leonard Nimoy being the host and narrator but it also has to do with it being kind of stylish and dated, even a decade later. The low budget ’70s television panache just made it a bit more magical and otherworldly than the similar shows that were current at the time.

I had no idea that there were as many as 144 episodes until I actually bought the DVD set off of Amazon, which is really cheap, by the way.

So while I haven’t watched the series in its entirety, yet, I have revisited some of the most memorable episodes and they bring me back to that magical place I was when I first experienced them.

That being said, it’s probably hard to review this without nostalgia giving it a boost but I think it’ll hit those same notes in people that already have a love of the weird, as well as television shows from this era.

While this is presented in a documentary style, the conclusions presented in the show are simply based off of the evidence that they had at the time. The show isn’t dishonest, as it admits to conjecture in its opening introduction. However, it’s sort of a time capsule now, as it presents these mysteries through the eyes, findings and interpretations of the world nearly forty-five years ago.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other shows about mysterious phenomenon, cryptozoology and things still left unexplained by science.

Documentary Review: The Sheik (2014)

Release Date: April 26th, 2014 (Hot Docs International Documentary Festival – Canada)
Directed by: Igal Hecht
Written by: Jian Magen, Jake Neiman, Igal Hecht
Music by: Michael Hanson
Cast: Khosrow Vaziri “The Iron Sheik”, Mick Foley, Seth Green, Jack Black, Bret Hart, Jimmy Hart, Hulk Hogan, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Bob Orton Sr., Bruce Pritchard, Jake Roberts, Jim Ross, Ron Simmons, Koko B. Ware, The Nasty Boys

Magen Boys Entertainment, Big Media, Chutzpa Productions, 95 Minutes

Review:

This film was one of the rare documentaries that I actually got to see in the theater. I think I saw it around 2016, as a small indie theater near me hosted a screening. I was pretty captivated by it and always wanted to watch it again. Since it’s been about five years, I figured I’d revisit it and review it.

I’ve reviewed several wrestler biographical documentaries but most of them don’t match the overall quality of this film. It actually looks like a budget went into it, as it’s really competently shot, edited and brings in some real heavy-hitters for the talking head interviews.

The great cast assembled in this could also be due to the film’s subject, Khosrow Vaziri a.k.a. The Iron Sheik, as he is legitimately a beloved legend who would influence not just many iconic wrestlers but also people from other fields within the larger entertainment sphere.

This film really delves into the Sheik’s backstory and the stuff about his early life is truly fascinating and impressive. It discusses his major accomplishments in the sport of amateur wrestling, why he left Iran for America and then how he adjusted to life in the States and a new career as a professional wrestler, once he moved to Minnesota and found Vern Gagne’s AWA (American Wrestling Association) territory.

We see Sheik come up through the ranks and then eventually make his way to the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) where he reached superstardom after winning the World Championship from Bob Backlund and then helped launch the career of Hulk Hogan, arguably the biggest star in professional wrestling history.

There is a dark side to this story too and that’s where the documentary becomes both compelling and heartbreaking. We see The Sheik struggle with drugs and alcohol and how it has a severely adverse effect on his family life and life in general. That’s not to say that this doesn’t have a happy ending but seeing Sheik at his worst is really difficult, especially for a long-time fan like myself.

This documentary tells a great story, though. While a lot of this may seem all too familiar with the biographical documentaries on other wrestling legends from The Sheik’s generation, this one just tells its story really well. Sheik has infectious charisma and it’s on full display, here, making this one of the best character pieces of its type.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other biographical wrestling documentaries. Many have been reviewed on this site, already.

Documentary Review: For the Love of Spock (2016)

Release Date: April 16th, 2016 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Directed by: Adam Nimoy
Music by: Nicholas Pike
Cast: Adam Nimoy, Leonard Nimoy (archive footage), Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Chris Pine, William Shatner, Mayim Bialik, Jim Parsons, Simon Pegg, Zachary Quinto, J.J. Abrams, Jason Alexander, Catherine Hicks, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Nicholas Meyer, Julie Nimoy

455 Films, For The Love Of Spock Productions, 111 Minutes

Review:

“The review that Variety gave us when we first went on the air in September of 1966: “Star Trek won’t work.” [grins]” – Leonard Nimoy

This had been in my queue for quite awhile. I’m not sure why I hadn’t watched it until now but I’m glad that I finally did, as Leonard Nimoy is an actor that had a pretty profound effect on me, as a kid, and because he’s someone I greatly admire, as an adult.

This documentary went into production while Nimoy was still alive but he died early on in the process of making it. Because of that, this evolved into being about the man and his most famous character, Spock from Star Trek.

For the Love of Spock is also a passionate letter from a loving son to his father, which also involves a lot of the talented people that worked with Nimoy over decades.

I like that this spent a lot of time on Nimoy, the man, as well as the Spock character. It delves into his personal life, his history in showbiz and how he was instrumental in shaping not just his character but the mythos of Star Trek, as a whole.

This was well shot, superbly edited and it was nice seeing all of his living colleagues and friends talk about his life, work and contributions to one of the greatest science fiction franchises of all-time.

This documentary is nearly two hours but it flew by like a breeze. I was actually surprised when it started to wrap up, as I hadn’t realized how much time had passed.

All in all, this is a pretty solid film on a pretty solid and supremely talented man.

Rating: 7.5/10

Documentary Review: F for Fake (1973)

Also known as: Hoax (original script title), ?, Fakes, Fakes!!, About Fakes (working titles), Truth and Lies (alternative title), Fraude (Spain)
Release Date: September, 1973 (Spain – San Sebastián Film Festival)
Directed by: Orson Welles, François Reichenbach, Gary Graver, Oja Kodar
Written by: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar
Music by: Michel Legrand
Cast: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving, Edith Irving, Francois Reichenbach

Les Films de l’Astrophore, SACI, Janus Film und Fernsehen, 89 Minutes

Review:

“What we professional liars hope to serve is truth. I’m afraid the pompous word for that is “art”.” – Orson Welles

People have debated for quite some time whether this is a documentary or itself a forgery. After seeing it, I think it’s a little bit of both while also just being a really cool art piece that Orson Welles left us with to cap off his filmmaking career.

The film examines two notable forgers. One man makes fake Picasso paintings, the other wrote a fraudulent biography about Howard Hughes.

I loved the opening sequence of this scene, which set the stage for the film’s story and tone, as Welles did magic tricks for children while describing how magicians were actually actors.

It’s actually kind of hard to describe what the film is, though. While there seems to be some truth that this is based on, the movie begins to take some creative and narrative liberties, as it takes the viewer down a strange, jovial and entertaining rabbit hole. Before you realize what’s happening, you’re lost in this deep well of Welles’ creativity.

Some describe this as a film essay but it’s definitely a real work of art and it displays how “outside the box” Welles’ thinking and creativity were.

What really grabbed me with this film was the style of editing. Welles always did things before the rest of his contemporaries caught on (or stole from him) and this movie is no different. He has these stylish, quick edits that move the narrative along pretty quickly and with that, make this a much more energetic documentary than what was the standard in the early 1970s.

I also love his style of narration and how he acts out scenes the way he does as a presenter. Welles was never short on charisma and charm and despite his older age, he hasn’t lost it. Frankly, I could watch the guy talk about anything for hours and he’d still make it entertaining even if the subject matter wasn’t very interesting.

F for Fake is an unusual but really original film. It makes you ponder its legitimacy but that’s also the point. Welles was a clever guy and himself a true magician of his preferred art form. In the end, does the legitimacy even matter, as long as you were entertained?

I guess that’s a question for modern times, as so many people take everything at face value, verbatim, with no real desire to look for the actual truth. But then again, Welles was always well ahead of his time. 

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Orson Welles’ other pictures.

Documentary Review: Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado (2020)

Also known as: Mucho mucho amor: La leyenda de Walter Mercado (Spanish title)
Release Date: January 24th, 2020 (Sundance)
Directed by: Cristina Costantini, Kareem Tabsch
Music by: Jeff Morrow
Cast: Walter Mercado, various

Muck Media, Key Rat, Topic Studios, Netflix, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Walter Mercado is a force of nature without beginnings and endings. He used to be a star, but now, Walter is a constellation.” – Walter Mercado

This was a pleasant surprise and a much more interesting and fun documentary than I had anticipated.

Full disclosure, I’ve always loved the hell out of Walter Mercado. While I don’t believe in astrology and am an atheist, he always seemed well-meaning and he also meant a lot to millions of people that felt uplifted by his woo woo messages of positivity.

As a teenager, I discovered him on television at one of my best friends’ houses. This Honduran family that I’d often times eat dinner with always had Walter on in the evening and even if I didn’t understand Spanish enough to know what he was saying in full detail, it was impossible not to be captivated by him.

What I never knew was his actual story between his early life, the genesis of his public persona and all the hardships he faced over the years. Watching this, I felt like I got to know Walter on a genuine level and I’ve got to say, all razzle dazzle aside, I really like the guy.

The best thing about this documentary is that it wasn’t made about Walter, it was made with his involvement and he stars in it, giving you a peek into his life now. He also tells his own stories, giving great first-person accounts of the key events in his life.

This also features interviews with people that have worked with Walter over the years and one guy that pretty much screwed him over and preyed on Walter’s good, trusting nature to steal the famous man’s name and “brand”.

For those who don’t know who Walter Mercado is, I still think that this would be a worthwhile documentary to check out, as he’s just an interesting person that lived an incredibly unique life and still has a lot to say to the world.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other recent pop culture biographical documentaries.

Documentary Review: The 24 Hour War (2016)

Release Date: 2016
Directed by: Nate Adams, Adam Carolla
Cast: various

Chassy Media, Netflix, 99 Minutes

Review:

Man, I really wanted to watch this as The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of my favorite sporting events of the year and the biggest motorsports thing that I care about.

However, this was pretty underwhelming even though it told a great story, which was the Le Mans rivalry that developed between Ferrari and Ford. Since there’s a very well-received and beloved drama film on this very subject, it’s not a true story short on excitement.

I think that the biggest problem with this documentary, though, was the editing. It wasn’t very good and it made this play like a disjointed clusterfuck at times. I don’t want to be too hard on it but it shifted gears in strange ways that left my brain feeling like a speed bag.

It was hard to follow the narrative but I did enjoy the interviews within this. Although, that doesn’t save the film from its issues.

While this is probably more factually accurate than the dramatized motion picture, you’re probably better off just watching that. Plus, it boasts great performances from its A-list cast.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on Le Mans and motorsports in general.

Documentary Review: The Beales of Grey Gardens (2006)

Release Date: July 21st, 2006 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Maysles, Albert Maysles
Cast: Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale, Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale 

Maysles Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“[on Republicans] Who’s the party of special interest that always grinds down the little people? Who’s the party that doesn’t give a damn as long as they make millions to put in their bank? Who’s the party that scrounges around to find all the dirt they can and use it against their opponent to destroy the two party system that made America what it is today? Who’s the party that delivered a crooked president?” – Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale

I liked the original Grey Gardens documentary enough to check out this sequel, which came out roughly thirty years later.

This wasn’t a traditional sequel, as in it didn’t check back in on these women after the events of the first movie. This was, instead, a new documentary made with unused footage, which apparently, there was a lot of.

This could’ve been released years ago or added into the original film, making it a three hour affair, but it’s kind of neat seeing it resurface decades later. Why they waited that long or even did it at all is a mystery but I still enjoyed this for the most part.

However, I can also see why most of this wasn’t used in the original film. Although, the scene with the fire in the house probably should’ve been in the original, as it explains why there’s a big burnt hole in the wall of this once great coastal mansion.

I probably wouldn’t watch this over Grey Gardens, if you haven’t seen either. However, if you liked Grey Gardens, this is a good companion piece to it and it gives you more insight and context into the lives of this mother and daughter.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor and the biographical drama film that is based on these women, starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.