Documentary Review: The Madness of Max (2015)

Release Date: August 1st, 2015
Directed by: Gary McFeat, Tim Ridge
Written by: Gary McFeat, Tim Ridge
Music by: Gary McFeat
Cast: George Miller, Mel Gibson, Steve Bisley, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Joanne Samuel

Macau Light Company, 157 Minutes

Review:

Being a big fan of Mad Max, I’ve wanted to see this documentary for awhile. While it has a lot of information and stories, it’s way too long for the subject matter, moves pretty slow and is actually a bit boring.

For something that’s over two and a half hours, this could have had some stuff in it about the sequels but those aren’t really mentioned, as this focuses solely on the first film and its creation. It’s an interesting story, for sure, but this documentary’s pacing and length sucked my interest right out of the room.

This thing is more than an hour longer than the movie its talking about, which is kind of mad, pun intended.

I like the insight from George Miller, as well as the cast but all this is, is 157 minutes of talking heads cut together into sections about certain subjects in regards to the film’s production.

A lot of this felt like interviews that could have been whittled down and better edited. A lot of people rehash the same things, again and again, and a lot of the details don’t need to be presented multiple times. But maybe the filmmakers wanted to give everyone an equal amount of time. But in doing that, it makes the flow and quality of this picture suffer.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other “making of” movie documentaries.

Documentary Review: Free Solo (2018)

Release Date: August 31st, 2018 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Alex Honnold, Sanni McCandless, Jimmy Chin, Tommy Caldwell

Itinerant Films, Little Monster Films, National Geographic, 100 Minutes

Review:

Since this film won the Academy Award, I thought I’d check it out.

It follows Alex Honnold a free solo climber as he attempts to scale El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. While we do get to see his big attempt at scaling the massive rock face, the documentary focuses more on the life of a climber than the feat itself.

Free Solo delves into the special sort of insanity that a free solo climber has. In Alex’s case, he doesn’t have time for love or a life that in any way distracts from his goals. However, by the start of this film, Alex now has a girlfriend and the movie analyzes their relationship and how it effects (or doesn’t effect) Alex in preparing for his big climb.

The documentary is definitely engaging and it is superbly shot, capturing the majestic beauty of El Capitan in all its glory.

But in the end, it just makes me question the subject’s sanity and what propels his mania.

I wouldn’t call this a documentary of the year or anything but it was an entertaining way to spend 100 minutes. But I’m more intrigued by the mind of the man than the accomplishments of the man.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Meru and The Dawn Wall. 

Documentary Review: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

Release Date: January 25th, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Written by: Alex Gibney
Based on: Going Clear by Lawrence Wright
Music by: Will Bates
Cast: Alex Gibney (narrator), Lawrence Wright, Mark Rathburn, Mike Rinder, Jason Beghe, Paul Haggis

HBO Documentary Films, Jigsaw Productions, Sky Atlantic, 119 Minutes

Review:

After recently watching the first season of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, I wanted to see something that delved more into Scientology in regards to their actual beliefs, their attraction to celebrities and all the other factors that I felt weren’t touched on enough in Leah’s show, as it focuses mainly on the personal stories of former Scientologists.

This documentary put out by HBO really provided me with the material that I was looking for. Also, this predates Leah’s show by a year or so, so maybe that’s why she didn’t rehash a lot of this stuff.

While this, like all documentaries, has an agenda, this doesn’t feel like it is trying to hammer you in the face with its condemnation of Scientology. Sure, it exposes it, reveals its twisted inner workings and allows those who were involved in it to speak out, but it’s presented in a good and clear way that sort of just lets the facts speak for themselves.

I found this to be informative and pretty engaging. It’s an entertaining film with a lot to absorb but it’s important with documentaries to not take everything at face value. But the more I look into Scientology, the more I find common threads and consistency within all its the criticism.

This was well produced, well organized and definitely worth a watch for anyone interested in the subject matter.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath

Documentary Review: Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods (2010)

Release Date: October 9th, 2010 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Patrick Meaney

Sequart Organization, Respect! Films, Halo-8 Entertainment, 80 Minutes

Review:

I have really enjoyed the comic book documentaries that Patrick Meaney has made. However, this one was kind of a dud, which is unfortunate, as I have liked some of Grant Morrison’s work over the years.

This was also Meaney’s first documentary, so there’s that.

What I mean, is that this felt amateurish and the editing wasn’t as good as it became in his later films. This was mostly talking head interviews and even then, most of them were just one or two sentence blurbs that came out pretty rapidly. Also, this was definitely a puff piece where everyone interviewed just praised Morrison like he was the second coming.

A lot of this felt insincere. And I don’t mean that to knock Morrison but this wasn’t a good documentary or very interesting. I anticipated really delving into the man and really getting some insight into his best work. Instead, this is just a bunch of people trying to sell you on Morrison, a guy you probably already know if you’re taking the time out to watch this.

I don’t care that he’s an alien abducted wizard and how “cool” this “rockstar” is, I want to know more about his creative process and why he did certain things a certain way. There’s a lot of “Oh, yeah… that was great! And then so and so stole it for this movie!”

This was just a lot of people giving Morrison a community wide handjob, telling us he’s great but not actually telling us what makes him great and why his work is great.

This was a real bore to get through but I’m glad that Meaney’s documentaries got better. Check out the one on Image Comics and the one on Chris Claremont. Those were infinitely more engaging than this was.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: Patrick Meaney’s other comic book documentaries but his later ones are much better.

Documentary Review: Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (2017)

Also known as: Amazing Grace (Germany)
Release Date: September 7th, 2017 (TIFF)
Directed by: Sophie Fiennes
Music by: Grace Jones
Cast: Grace Jones

Blinder Films, Sligoville, Amoeba Film, 115 Minutes

Review:

After seeing the trailer, I was pretty excited to check this documentary out. I’ve always liked Grace Jones, as she’s always just been herself and doesn’t really seem to compromise her art, music or persona for anyone or anything.

Sadly, I was disappointed with what we got. But the main reason is that I had hoped that this would have been more of a biographical documentary about her life, her style, her films and her music.

What this is, is a concert movie where the performances are broken up by long clips of every day life stuff. But none of it is terribly interesting, as the cameras just role and you don’t always fully understand the context of what you’re watching.

It’s nice seeing Grace with her family in Jamaica, eating dinner, and seeing her work on her upcoming album. However, a lot of this is her having phone conversations, where you can’t here the other side of the line or her working through things with her music producer.

I enjoyed the music and a lot of it is very good. But ultimately, this falls pretty flat. While I’m interested in the music of Grace Jones, I’m much more captivated by the person and had hoped that this would bring me closer to knowing her.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Grace Jones: Slave to the Rhythm, Whiteny and David Bowie: The Last Five Years.

TV Review: Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath (2016- )

Original Run: November 29th, 2016 – current
Created by: Leah Remini, Eli Holzman, Aaron Saidman, Alex Weresow
Music by: various
Cast: Leah Remini, Mike Rinder

No Seriously Productions, The Intellectual Property Corporation, A&E, 36 Episodes (so far), 43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I never really had any intention of watching this but I had a few friends always bring it up to me, so I checked it out. To be frank, I don’t give a shit about religion, regardless of what the belief system is.

Anyway, I also know that just about every documentary has an agenda and that the truth is usually somewhere outside of the idea being pushed.

However, this is pretty compelling and it lets people tell their own stories in their own words. Sure, Leah Remini has an ax to grind and she sometimes steers the conversation but her ax seems like it is genuine and the more I learn about Scientology, the more I can understand why she feels that getting all of this out in the open is so important. And honestly, I support her in that.

When you start watching this show, it is hard to turn away. And as more is revealed through the testimonials of former Scientologists, the more interesting the show gets because there are so many layers to the bizarre beliefs and culture of Scientology. And really, it definitely comes across as a legitimate cult in how it tries to control and police its members.

The show can get repetitive after awhile but each episode features a new person with a new story. The thing is, everyone’s account of the way this church is run all lines up from episode to episode and if this was just a bunch of people trying to attack the church in ways that weren’t honest, I think it’d become pretty apparent. But everyone seems to consistently hit the same points.

I think this show is compelling in how it gives you an real insider’s view into the Church of Scientology but it also grabs you and holds on because so much of this seems so unbelievable. That is, until you start hearing similar stories from so many former Scientologists.

In the end, I believe Leah Remini and the people featured on the show. There’s just too much consistency from story to story for this to be a dishonest, bitter condemnation of Scientology.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on Scientology.

Documentary Review: Becoming Bond (2017)

Release Date: March 11th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: Josh Greenbaum
Written by: Josh Greenbaum
Music by: John Piscitello
Cast: George Lazenby, Josh Lawson, Kassandra Clementi, Jane Seymour, Jeff Garlin, Jake Johnson, Dana Carvey

Delirio Films, Hulu, 95 Minutes

Review:

Well, this was an incredibly fun documentary.

What I liked most about this was it was just George Lazenby telling his story, in his own words with comedic dramatization used to paint the picture. I didn’t expect to be so amused by this but I was.

I think the thing that made the dramatizations so good is that they sneaked some well-known actors into the mix. We got Jane Seymour and Jake Johnson but then we also got the comedic flourish of Jeff Garlin and Dana Carvey, who did a solid Johnny Carson impersonation.

For those that don’t know, George Lazenby played James Bond in one movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Oddly enough, that is my favorite Bond movie of all-time, so seeing this documentary about the one-off Bond and some of the behind the scenes stuff of that movie, was really cool to watch. Especially, since that film came out in a time when behind the scenes stuff didn’t really exist.

Also, a lot of the stuff about Lazenby is discussed in the documentary Everything Or Nothing but that film covers the entire James Bond franchise and Lazenby’s stint was a very small piece of the larger pie. So having a whole documentary dedicated to Lazenby and the controversy surrounding his time as Bond was pretty cool.

In the end, this made me appreciate Lazenby, the man. He definitely marched to the beat of his own drum and despite the issues that the franchise had because of him, it’s hard not to respect him. Plus, he is still the star of one of the greatest Bond films ever made.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about the James Bond franchise but most notably, Everything Or Nothing.