Documentary Review: Circus of Books (2019)

Release Date: April 26th, 2019 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Directed by: Rachel Mason
Written by: Rachel Mason, Kathryn Robson
Cast: Karen Mason, Barry Mason, Rachel Mason, various

Netflix, 92 Minutes

Review:

I saw this pop up on Netflix, so I figured I’d check it out, as I generally enjoy the documentaries they distribute through their streaming service.

I wasn’t disappointed, as this is a really interesting story about a religious Jewish family who opened up a gay porn store, which also became a gay porn film studio and distributor. The store rose to prominence within the Los Angeles gay scene in the ’80s and would also reach far beyond its home city.

This kind of hit close to home, as I’ve been around gay culture since my teen years. The scene in southern Florida is big and even though I’m straight, I’ve always had gay friends and also lived with a pretty legit drag queen for a bit. The era that the bulk of this story took place in just brought a lot of those great memories back.

Beyond the nostalgia, this is an intriguing story about really interesting, good people. It’s hard not to love the family that started this store and it’s just as much a love letter to them, as it is the store itself.

I especially liked how interesting the father was with his backstory and the road that life took him on, leading up to becoming a straight, religious, family man that owned a gay book store.

This also examines the impact that owning the store had on the family as a whole in an age when it was considered really taboo. I liked meeting the kids, getting their take on all of it and how they grew up with this “moral” cloud over their religious upbringing.

It was also really cool seeing people from the L.A. gay community talking about the store and what it meant to them during really difficult times in their lives.

This really hits you in the feels and it’s unfortunate that the store, during the filming of this documentary, was falling on real hard times due to the world evolving away from the old mediums of pornography thanks to the Internet.

While this documentary was made by someone within the family, it’s not in any way inauthentic or dishonest because of that. In fact, it made the experience more intimate and meaningful.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about LGBTQ cultural history, porn and small business.

Film Review: The Fifth Estate (2013)

Also known as: The Man Who Sold the World (working title), The 5ifth Estate (alternative DVD spelling)
Release Date: September 5th, 2013 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Bill Condon
Written by: Josh Singer
Based on: Inside WikiLeaks by Daniel Domscheit-Berg; WikiLeaks by David Leigh, Luke Harding
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, Moritz Bleibtreu, Peter Capaldi, Dan Stevens, Alexander Siddig

Participant, Reliance Entertainment, Dreamworks Pictures, 128 Minutes

Review:

“Man is least himself when he talks with his own person. But if you give him a mask, he will tell you the truth. Two people, and a secret: the beginning of all conspiracies. More people, and, more secrets. But if we could find one moral man, one whistle-blower. Someone willing to expose those secrets, that man can topple the most powerful and most repressive of regimes.” – Julian Assange

Wow! This movie was an utter disappointment and honestly, a fucking disaster!

I should be clear from the get go that the performances were good and the shitty end result of this picture didn’t really fall on the shoulders of the actors. Hell, this film actually has a tremendous cast and that’s why I finally decided to give it a watch despite all the bad things I’ve heard about it since it came out.

I haven’t read the books that were used to write this film’s script but I know enough of the WikiLeaks story to know that this was a lot of bullshit. Also, I’m not sure how you can take such an exciting story and turn it into something this fucking dull! I mean, it’s got to take a real cement brained dullard to make the WikiLeaks and Assange story this damn boring!

Yes, I expected it not to be up to snuff but I at least expected the cast to kind of make up for the film’s technical and narrative shortcomings. Again, the cast is good but everything else is so bad that it barely even matters that they’re there.

In fact, I have to give this film a low score and the final tally is still going to be well below average, even though I gave it two bonus points for the actors.

This was a long, sloppy, boring film. It didn’t look that great and visually came across as really pedestrian. There weren’t any shots that stand out in my mind, as everything seemed to be shot like a television show that was on a tight schedule.

I don’t know how you can make a completely uninspiring movie out of a very inspiring person. But kudos, I guess.

This is shit.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other films and documentaries about cypherpunk culture and whistleblowers.

Documentary Review: Something Ventured (2011)

Release Date: April 24th, 2011 (San Francisco International Film Festival)
Directed by: Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine
Music by: Laura Karpman
Cast: various

Geller/Goldfine Productions, Miralan Productions, 84 Minutes

Review:

I saw this way back when it came out but I remembered it pretty fondly, so I decided to give it another watch when I saw it was free with Prime. Also, I didn’t remember much about it other than I had liked it about a decade ago.

So this goes through the early days of venture capitalism and since that’s something I’m a fan of, I found this pretty interesting. Plus, all these old school O.G. venture capitalists all seemed like pretty good guys and they came off as quite likable.

What’s most interesting about this is that it gives some details on the creation of a lot of iconic companies. It also shows many of these men talk about their failures and missed opportunities.

Ultimately, I liked that everyone sort of wore everything on their sleeve and weren’t afraid of talking about the good and the bad. There are lessons to be learned from these personalities and their trial and error.

This is a fairly short and quick watch and while it is primarily just talking head interviews, everything is superbly organized and presented while the multiple narratives and subjects flow well.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on business.

Film Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Release Date: December 9th, 2013 (Paris premiere)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Terence Winter
Based on: The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort
Music by: various
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Jon Bernthal, Joanna Lumley, Cristin Milioti, Aya Cash, Christine Ebersole, Shea Whigham, Katarina Cas, Stephanie Kurtzuba, P. J. Byrne, Kenneth Choi, Ethan Suplee, Thomas Middleditch, Jordan Belfort (cameo), Spike Jonze (cameo, uncredited)

Sikelia Productions, Appian Way, Red Granite Pictures, 180 Minutes, 145 Minutes (cut version), 240 Minutes (rough cut)

Review:

“Let me tell you something. There’s no nobility in poverty. I have been a rich man and I have been a poor man. And I choose rich every fuckin’ time. Because, at least as a rich man, when I have to face my problems, I show up in the back of the limo, wearing a $2000 suit and a $40,000 gold fuckin’ watch.” – Jordan Belfort

Even though I love finance industry movies and the work of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, I didn’t have much urge to see this back when it came out.

Reason being, I read the book and it read like a load of bullshit. Sure, it chronicled a guy’s life but it was so over the top and exaggerated that it read like some narcissistic fantasy where the author was jacking off to his own words about himself.

People then came forth and debunked a lot of the over the top stuff, once the book became popular and everyone was talking about it. The problem with that, was that the movie was already in production and I assumed the script was written and we were going to get the book adapted as-is and not with a dose of reality actually thrown in.

Well, being that I do love finance industry movies, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, I thought, “Fuck it, just watch it to review it.” Plus, I wanted something else to watch after recently revisiting the two Oliver Stone Wall Street movies and the underrated Boiler Room.

I’ve got to say that I was actually impressed by the picture enough that I sort of just turned my brain off and watched this like a normal drama movie and didn’t get fixated on the validity of the source material. At the end of the day, it was an entertaining film that was bolstered by several great performances and the stupendous craftsmanship of Scorsese behind the camera.

Now I can’t say that I liked this as much as 1987’s Wall Street but it is as good as the other great movies that are just beneath it.

In fact, my only real complaint about it was that it was too long. I guess the rough cut was four hours and Scorsese lobbed a whole hour off of it but even then, I felt like a good extra half hour or more could’ve been left out. Granted, I would still watch a four hour Director’s Cut version if Scorsese ever decided to do one. But I think that this beefy story may have actually worked better as a miniseries. I guess you can’t simply throw DiCaprio onto the small screen, though. 

As should be expected, this movie was a beautiful, visual feast. It featured impressive cinematography and even the CGI parts fit well within the overall look of the film. Really, there was just one big CGI sequence when the main characters wrecked their giant yacht at sea.

The film didn’t have a traditional musical score and instead, sprinkled in pop tunes from the years that this film’s story spanned. That was fine with me as it almost went unnoticed.

In the end, I enjoyed The Wolf of Wall Street quite a bit. I don’t think it’ll be one of those films I cherish or revisit all that often like Wall Street but it certainly deserves its fanfare.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other finance industry films like the two Wall Street movies, The Big Short, Rogue Trader, Boiler Room, etc.

Documentary Review: Citizenfour (2014)

Release Date: October 10th, 2014 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Laura Poitras
Cast: Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, William Binney, Jacob Applebaum, Ewen MacAskill

HBO Films, Participant Media, Praxis Films, Radius-TWC, 113 Minutes

Review:

For those who don’t already know the story of Edward Snowden, this does a good job of laying out all the facts and events that led to the situation he finds himself in, today.

While millions of people want him to get a presidential pardon, which I agree with, I think it’s important for those who don’t really know his story to actually learn about it because so many seem to easily accept the “traitor” label that’s been applied to him by those in the former Obama Administration.

What’s best about this, is that it actually stars Snowden. The cameras follow him, as he traverses through the muck while trying to get all the secrets he’s discovered out there.

Additionally, this features those who helped Snowden leak his secrets.

For the most part, this was really good and it makes its point well.

There’s not much to say about the contents of the film, as people really should watch it play out for themselves.

It’s well presented and it at least gives Snowden a voice.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other films on cypherpunk culture, specifically on hacking and leaking. I’ve reviewed many, here.

Documentary Review: Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain (2018)

Also known as: Decentralized: The Story of Blockchain (working title)
Release Date: October 26th, 2018 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Alex Winter
Written by: Alex Winter
Music by: Bill Laswell
Cast: Rosario Dawson (narrator), Alex Winter (interviewer), various

SingularDTV, Futurism Studios, Breaker, 84 Minutes

Review:

After watching Alex Winter’s documentary Deep Web, I was left wanting more. He followed that one up a few years later with this, which covers similar topics but with the majority of its focus on blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.

What I liked most about this film is that it describes these complex things and ideas really damn well. It makes this somewhat palatable for the layman.

Also, this interviews several people who know what they’re talking about while also featuring comments from many of blockchain and crypto’s detractors along with some great rebuttals.

A big part of the documentary follows the story of Lauri Love, a British hacker and activist that was wanted by the United States for alleged activities as a member of the hacker collective Anonymous. His story is really damn interesting and the film does a solid job of telling it.

If you have an interest in this stuff and haven’t seen this documentary, you should probably check it out. Alex Winter does great work and presents these subjects well.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about cypherpunk stuff like blockchain, cryptocurrency, hacking, etc. Especially, those by Alex Winter.

Film Review: Silent Hill: Revelation (2012)

Also known as: Silent Hill 2 (working title), Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (poster title)
Release Date: October 25th, 2012 (Hong Kong, Russia, Ukraine)
Directed by: Michael J. Bassett
Written by: Michael J. Bassett
Based on: Silent Hill 3 by Konami
Music by: Jeff Danna, Akira Yamaoka
Cast: Adelaide Clemens, Kit Harington, Deborah Kara Unger, Martin Donovan, Malcolm McDowell, Carrie-Anne Moss, Sean Bean, Radha Mitchell, Heather Marks

Silent Hill 2 DCP Inc., Konami, Dynamic Effects Canada, Davis-Films, 95 Minutes

Review:

“The darkness is coming. It’s safer to be inside.” – Dahlia

Utter shit.

That’s what this movie is.

I don’t know if the six year hiatus is what caused this to be such an atrocious follow-up to the first Silent Hill movie but man, this was fucking terrible.

It tries to naturally follow the plot of the first movie, which loosely adapted the first two Silent Hill video games, by loosely adapting the third game. However, it gets a hell of a lot wrong and apparently the writer/director didn’t pay close attention to the first movie, as several things contradict and retcon it.

The story is garbage and frankly, it makes little to no sense if it actually exists in the same universe as the previous movie. That first film’s rules no longer apply and this is a sequel that just makes shit up as it goes along and does whatever it wants for plot convenience. It’s lazily crafted in every way and it derailed this from becoming a film franchise built on top of the video game franchise.

This movie also stars very capable actors but in this, they all give their worst performances.

Additionally, the special effects are CGI heavy and the movie looks a lot cheaper than the successful first one. Usually, this means that a studio will spend more money. However, this looks like a mediocre fan film made by first year film students.

I don’t know what else to say. There’s not a single good thing about this movie and everything that could’ve gone wrong, apparently did.

I’m sorry your agent talked you into this, Mr. McDowell.

Fuck this movie.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: it’s far superior predecessor. But more importantly, the video game series. Specifically, the first three games.

Documentary Review: World of Darkness (2017)

Release Date: May 11th, 2017 (Germany)
Directed by: Giles Alderson
Written by: Kevin Lee
Cast: various

Figi Productions, Luckyday, 89 Minutes

Review:

After recently watching a good documentary on Dungeons & Dragons, I wanted to watch this, as it’s about a role-playing community I was more involved in.

In fact, I was involved in a relationship about twenty years ago that found itself wrapped up in this game’s orbit quite a bit. It was fun for the time and even though I wasn’t a die hard player or fan, I enjoyed those in the community I got to know and I really enjoyed the original PC game.

That being said, this is a good recount of the history of the White Wolf company and the fans who loved their products. It also goes into how White Wolf sort of fucked themselves and pissed off those loyal fans, essentially sabotaging future growth and brand loyalty.

I remember when all the shenanigans started and while I didn’t understand (or pay attention) to all the details back then, I do remember how pissed off a lot of people were.

This is an interesting documentary because the story of White Wolf is an interesting one. However, beyond that, this plays like many of the other documentaries about niche fandoms.

Also, it didn’t interview some of the company’s former die hards that felt betrayed. Sure, some people here were miffed by it and added their two cents but I felt like the issues were addressed and quickly brushed under the rug and dismissed, looking forward into the future and what the White Wolf IP rights holders hope will be a lucrative business once again.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about table top gaming, video games and specific fandoms.

Documentary Review: Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Dungeons & Dragons (2019)

Release Date: May 14th, 2019
Directed by: Kevin Slagle, Brian Stillman
Music by: Seth Polansky, Noah Potter

Cavegirl Productions, X-Ray Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

I recently read and reviewed a great book about the art of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise. I had no idea there was also a documentary about the subject, which came out last year.

Coming across this recently on Prime Video, I immediately added it to my queue and moved it to the top of my list.

Overall, this is a damn good film on not just on the art of Dungeons & Dragons but also the history of the game, the company behind it, the key people involved, as well as the players and still growing fandom.

This well well produced, well edited and featured so many wonderful talking head interviews from just about all the key players, that it made this a really enriching experience.

Mostly, this just made me appreciate the hard work, creativity and craftsmanship that went into developing the game and its numerous expansions and spinoffs.

If you love fantasy art and/or the D&D brand, this is most certainly worth your time.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about pop culture art, unique fandoms and gaming.

Documentary Review: Easy to Learn, Hard to Master: The Fate of Atari (2017)

Release Date: February, 2017 (Italy)
Directed by: Tomaso Walliser
Written by: Tomaso Walliser
Cast: Bill Herd, Nolan Bushnell, Manny Gerard, Ray Kassar, Al Alcorn, Ralph H. Baer, Joe Decuir, David Crane, Howard Scott Warshaw, Dannis Koble, Ed Rotberg, David Rolfe, Steve Russel, Chuck Peddle, Steve Wozniak, Eugene Jarvis, Steven Kent, Chris Kohler, Walter Day, Minoru Arakawa

Junk Food Films, 110 Minutes

Review:

I watched this a few years back but for some reason didn’t review it. I’m often times suffering from whiskey-induced Swiss cheese brain.

Anyway, I recently revisited the documentary The Commodore Story: Changing the World 8-Bits at a Time and it got me thinking about this similar documentary about Atari, so I figured I’d revisit it.

For fans of retrogaming, this is definitely worth a watch as Atari’s story is really interesting and full of colorful characters who were actually involved in this documentary.

Like most good documentaries about pop culture things, this one is loaded full of talking head interviews with the people who were there and lived the story.

This goes back into how Atari came to be, what initially inspired it and how they went to the moon and eventually came crashing back down to Earth.

Overall, this is a fun, engaging film about a company everyone should love. Granted, not everyone has a love of old school gaming but there are also people who pay to be pissed on.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other historical documentaries about the video game industry.