Documentary Review: American Experience: The Bombing of Wall Street (2018)

Release Date: February 13th, 2018
Directed by: Susan Bellows
Written by: Susan Bellows
Music by: Joel Goodman
Cast: Oliver Platt (narrator), various

PBS, 53 Minutes

Review:

I usually like these PBS American Experience documentaries, even if they’re a bit dry at times.

This one was kind of slow but the story was still interesting as it doesn’t just talk about the bombing of Wall Street but it also discusses the fallout from it and how it sparked a heated debate, across the country, about the federal government’s role in protecting Americans from acts of terror and how much overreach should they be allowed to have in combating acts of political violence. Even though this now happened 101 years ago, we’re still having this debate in America and the government has certainly pushed the envelope in regards to their use of power.

For those who don’t know, a cart loaded with dynamite exploded in front of Morgan Bank on September 16th, 1920. The bombing killed 38 and injured hundreds.

It’s a pretty compelling story and an event that seems somewhat forgotten in history. I remembered initially learning about it in high school but haven’t thought much about it since. Strangely enough, they never did find out who was behind the bombing and it remains unsolved.

Overall, this was full of a lot of information about the event and how it sent shockwaves through the country. There were a lot of details I didn’t know previously, so that alone made this a worthwhile watch.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: The ‘Harry Potter’ Film Series, Part II (2007-2011)

Release Date: June 28th, 2007 (Order of the Phoenix), July 7th, 2009 (Half-Blood Prince), November 11th, 2010 (Deathly Hollows – Part 1), July 7th, 2010 (Deathly Hollows – Part 2)
Directed by: David Yates
Written by: Michael Goldenberg (Order of the Phoenix), Steve Kloves (Half-Blood Prince, Deathly Hollows – Part 1, Deathly Hollows – Part 2)
Based on: the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling
Music by: Nicholas Hopper (Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince), Alexandre Desplat (Deathly Hollows – Part 1, Deathly Hollows – Part 2)
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Tom Felton, David Bradley, Jason Issacs, Gary Oldman, Brendan Gleeson, Helena Bonham Carter, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Spall, John Hurt, Imelda Staunton 

Heyday Films, Warner Bros., 138 Minutes (Order of the Phoenix), 153 Minutes (Half-Blood Prince), 146 Minutes (Deathly Hollows – Part 1), 130 Minutes (Deathly Hollows – Part 2) 

Review:

As I said in my review of the first four Harry Potter films, the series improves as it moves on. So I was much more enthused going into the back half of the saga and especially, after the third act of The Goblet of Fire, which sets up a much darker world with the resurrection of Voldemort and the death of a teenager at his hands.

These films are really f’n good and honestly, I was never really into Harry Potter because of how wholesome and whimsical it starts out but as the kids age, that stuff sort of fades away. Sure, there are still some of those moments but it isn’t overdone to an eye-rolling level like the first two pictures, especially.

Additionally, all the kids are much better in this stretch. They feel like real friends because after years of working together, they were. Their bond feels much more real and genuine and the love they have for each other transcends the films, which is exceptionally rare for actors this young and with this little of experience, only really having the previous films in this series under their belts.

It may have been hard to see it in the first few movies but when you look at the total package from start-to-finish, these movies in regards to its young stars, were perfectly cast. It’s also kind of amazing that they were able to pull this off over eight films in a decade, keeping everyone on board. And I say that as someone that grew up loving the Narnia books and just always wanted a film series that made it to the end. None have.

What’s even more amazing is that the other kid actors who aren’t the main three, all grow and improve over time, as well. It’s actually cool seeing these characters and the actors grow up before you, onscreen. I don’t think that it’s something that could ever be pulled off again, as well and as perfectly as it was done here.

Plus, the adult actors were superb in every way. In this stretch of films, they really take a bit of a step back, as the kids emerge as the new leaders of this universe. However, the adults know how to support them in their quest to vanquish evil and reign in a new day.

I had seen all of these films previously but never did get to see the finale. Now that I have, my overall opinion on this series has changed. The finale is one of the best film series finales I have ever seen and it makes everything before it, worth it. Even the early, overly whimsical movies are justified and actually make the strength and growth of Harry, by the end, more meaningful. I mean, damn, dude was just this innocent, happy kid, despite his terrible home life, and he rose to the occasion, became a true hero and didn’t make excuses for or succumb to the hardships he faced along the way. He had doubt, he had fear but he always stepped up to do what’s right.

In the end, I love the total package of this franchise and I really should’ve seen them in the theater over the years. The Deathly Hollows – Part 2 is especially exceptional and honestly, a masterpiece for this sort of film. In the end, it’s one of the greatest finales of the epic adventure genre and a perfect conclusion.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Rating: 8.75/10

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Rating: 9/10

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – Part 1 – Rating: 9.25/10

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – Part 2 – Rating: 10/10

Film Review: The Wolfman (2010)

Release Date: January 27th, 2010 (Rome premiere)
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self
Based on: The Wolf Man by Curt Siodmak
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Asa Butterfield, Rick Baker (cameo), Max von Sydow (scene cut)

Bluegrass Films, Relativity Media, Universal Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“I will kill all of you!” – Lawrence Talbot

Critics and audiences were kind of harsh to this movie when it came out and for whatever reason, I never saw it until now. I’m rarely dissuaded by critics and casual filmgoers but I think I didn’t see it because it came out at a weird time, was gone from theaters quickly and I just never caught it streaming anywhere.

However, considering that this was a remake of a classic Universal Monsters movie, I almost feel like not seeing this for so long is a crime.

Having now seen it, I think that people were really unfair to it. I thought that it was certainly more good than bad and there are parts of the film I enjoyed, immensely.

I thought the cast was fucking great. The only really issue I had with the film, honestly, was that the story was a bit hard to follow. It was simple but it had little things mixed in that made it a bit more complicated than it needed to be. I think some of this is also due to details and reveals casually appearing in conversations where if you missed that one line of dialogue, you were fucked for the rest of the story. I think the wonky pacing of the film also had an adverse effect on the plot and how it just didn’t flow smoothly. For those who saw this in the theater, a poorly timed bathroom break, could wreck the picture.

Visually, I thought the movie was pretty damn perfect. I liked the tone, the darkness, the detail of the more opulent settings and how they used shadow and light during the werewolf scenes.

I thought that the CGI was generally good but sometimes it felt a bit artificial. I think this was mainly a problem when they were tasked with trying to make werewolf facial shots work in the dark with subtle, artificial light.

Still, the werewolf action scenes were great. I loved the first werewolf attack, which led to Benicio del Toro’s version of Lawrence Talbot getting infected with the werewolf curse. Beyond that, the sequence that ends with del Toro’s werewolf decapitating the cop was solid, as was the slaughter of the bourgeoise intellectuals in the insane asylum.

Everything comes to a head in the final werewolf vs. werewolf fight between father and son and man, I liked this a lot too. I also thought that, in this scene, they did a great job in making each werewolf resemble their actor enough for you to tell them apart.

Another thing that also enhanced this film was Danny Elfman’s score. I think it’s one of his best in more recent memory.

The Wolfman is a pretty decent Victorian era werewolf film. It’s nowhere near the caliber of considering it a classic, like the film that served as its source material, but I wouldn’t have been opposed to Universal using this as the launching pad for more Universal Monsters movies. Alas, and after multiple attempts since this movie, Universal still hasn’t figured out how to make a shared universe work, even though they invented it with this franchise in the 1930s and 1940s.

Rating: 7/10

Documentary Review: Scary Stories (2018)

Release Date: October 28th, 2018 (Frightening Ass Film Festival)
Directed by: Cody Meirick
Music by: E.K. Wimmer
Cast: Alvin Schwarts (archive footage), R.L. Stine, various

Giant Thumb Studios, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Part of Alvin Schwartz’s brilliance was that he took all these old folk legends and made them readable for kids. And I think that’s his particular genius.” – R.L. Stine

I think that for most Gen-Xers and older millennials, the Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark books were a staple of their childhood. The three books certainly were a major part of my late elementary and middle school years and also did a lot in generating my lifelong love of horror.

This documentary tells the story about these books but it also talks about Alvin Schwartz, the man who created this phenomenon, as well as the cultural impact of his work, which caused busybody parent groups to try and ban the books in schools.

The story is told by various individuals interviewed for this. Many talk about Schwartz, the books themselves, the cultural issues surrounding them, as well as their own personal experiences discovering and reading these books.

The film is capped off by Schwartz’s son sitting down and having a discussion with the woman that started the movement to ban his father’s work.

Overall, this was pretty good but I feel like if you aren’t already a fan of this literary (and now film) franchise, that this won’t specifically resonate with you.

Rating: 6.25/10

Documentary Review: What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (2018)

Also known as: What We Left Behind: Star Trek DS9 (shortened title)
Release Date: October 12th, 2018 (Los Angeles special screening)
Directed by: Ira Steven Behr, David Zappone
Music by: Kevin Kiner, Dennis McCarthy
Cast: Max Grodenchik, Andrew Robinson, Armin Shimerman, Nana Visitor, Colm Meaney, Jeffrey Combs, Aron Eisenberg, Rene Auberjonois, Ira Steven Behr, Alexander Siddig, Casey Biggs, Rick Berman, Terry Farrell, Jonathan West, David Carson, Marc Bernardin, Penny Johnson Jerald, Avery Brooks, Rene Echevarria, Ronald D. Moore, Michael Okuda, Chase Masterson, Louis Race, Michael Dorn, Wallace Shawn, Marc Alaimo, Michael Westmore, John Putman, James Darren, Bill Mumy, Cirroc Lofton, Nicole de Boer

Le Big Boss Productions, Tuxedo Productions, 455 Films, 116 Minutes

Review:

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was my favorite Star Trek show of the bunch. However, my relationship with it didn’t start out well. In fact, I really disliked it early on, quit halfway into the first season and didn’t return until years later, after it was off the air and I could stream it on Netflix.

Over the years, I’d hear from really hardcore Trekkies that it was the best show and that once it found its footing, its larger story and its purpose, it became one of the best shows in sci-fi television history.

After giving it a second chance, I discovered this to be true and the show, at least for me, lived up to that hype and may have even exceeded it.

This documentary was crowdsourced and probably long overdue. I’m glad that it got made when it did because a few key people who were involved in it have passed away in the few years since.

This was directed and put together by Ira Steven Behr, who was the DS9 showrunner. But he clearly has a ton of passion for this show, all the people he worked with on it and the large fanbase that has continued to grow over time.

What We Left Behind features interviews with just about every key person that was involved in the show and it was nice seeing how much they loved their work and each other, as well as the fans. Sadly, many fanbases have been wrecked in recent years, Star Trek, as a whole, being one of them. However, for whatever reason, DS9 seems to be less effected by that.

Overall, this was a really cool documentary and it was fun to watch. If you loved Deep Space Nine, you really should check this out. Plus, I think it is currently free on Prime.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: Jigsaw (2017)

Also known as: Saw 8, Saw VIII, Saw: Legacy (working titles)
Release Date: October 25th, 2017 (Moscow premiere)
Directed by: The Spierig Brothers
Written by: Josh Stolberg, Peter Goldfinger
Music by: Charlie Clouser
Cast: Tobin Bell, Matt Passmore, Callum Keith Rennie, Clé Bennett, Hannah Emily Anderson, Laura Vandervoort, Mandela Van Peebles

Serendipity Productions, Burg Koules Hoffman Productions, Twisted Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“The truth will set you free.” – Jigsaw

Well, after the terrible weekend where I forced myself through all of the original Saw sequels, I really didn’t want to have to jump into the more modern sequels at all… but there’s only two of them, so I figured I’d just power through them each in sperate sessions. Luckily, this film at least provided me with something that was a wee bit of a step up from those last several.

Granted, I say “wee bit” because this isn’t a particularly good movie but it stood out when compared to all the sequels after the third Saw.

As I’ve stated before, I like Tobin Bell as Jigsaw and I was glad that they found a way to actually have him in this, alive and as well as he could be, as the cancer hadn’t beat him yet.

With his presence, though, it left you wondering if him surviving cancer was some sort of clever Jigsaw trick all along. The big reveal in this chapter, as there’s always a big reveal in Saw movies, is that half of the plot takes place before the first Saw while the other half of the story is a sequel. So my worry of there being some type of stupid supernatural element thrown in was eased once the reveal happens.

There was also a pretty solid red herring in the movie, when you had to start guessing who might be pulling some of the strings, as you assume there is some sort of copycat Jigsaw or another unknown apprentice.

However, this, like it’s several predecessors, is nowhere near as clever as the original film. Additionally, the dual storylines that take place at different times is kind of confusing and a bit of a bloated clusterfuck.

One big positive, is that the people playing Jigsaw’s game in this are a lot less annoying than the groups in previous films. I thought Laura Vandervoort was pretty good and likable in this. Well, until her dark secret comes out.

As Saw sequels go, however, I felt like I wasted my time with a movie that’s just unpleasant, often times shrill and has very few redeeming qualities other than enjoying the pivotal scenes with Jigsaw in them.

Rating: 5/10

TV Review: The Imagineering Story (2019)

Original Run: November 12th, 2019 – December 13th, 2019
Created by: Leslie Iwerks
Directed by: Leslie Iwerks
Written by: Mark Catalena
Music by: Jeffrey Kryka
Cast: Angela Bassett (narrator), various

Iwerks & Co., Disney+, 6 Episodes, 62-68 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

In the last few years, I’ve started to take many documentaries with a grain of salt. Reason being, they always have an objective and typically tend to lean towards their preconceived biases, ignoring things that may actually challenge or disprove their message.

This is especially true when a documentary about a subject is made by the subject itself. For instance, for those who know anything about the wrestling business beyond the WWE, when they watch WWE documentaries, they know that it’s from the company’s point-of-view and that they often times don’t tell the whole story, alter the story for their benefit or completely ignore or gloss over some of the darker, unpleasant things.

I’ve got to say, though, as dishonest and “woke” as Disney has become with their output, this seemed to be pretty straightforward and fairly objective. It also included many key people from Disney’s past and didn’t really seem to sugarcoat things or censor the talking heads who may have had issues with Disney after moving on by their choice or the company’s.

That being said, I enjoyed this quite a bit and binged through it over a rainy Sunday afternoon.

It talks about Disney’s Imagineers from their earliest days up to modern times. Each of the six episodes moves forward and covers a different era of the many theme parks, their creation at the earliest stages, their design and engineering challenges, as well as their birth into the world and how they were perceived by the people who worked on them, the company itself and the public, who just want the best experience money can buy.

My only real complaint about this, and it’s probably just my personal preference, is that I wish they spent more time on the earliest stuff. I honestly don’t feel like one episode on Walt Disney, the man, and the genesis of the original Disneyland was enough. Granted, each episode could’ve been beefed up to two hours apiece and I’d still find this enjoyable.

The Imagineering Story is pretty damn cool if you’re into this stuff.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: The Original ‘Saw’ Sequels (2005-2010)

Release Date: October 28th, 2005 (Saw II), October 27th 2006 (Saw III), October 26th, 2007 (Saw IV), October 24th, 2008 (Saw V), October 23rd, 2009 (Saw VI), October 29th, 2010 (Saw VII), 
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II-IV), David Hackl (Saw V), Kevin Greutert (Saw VI-VII)
Written by: Leigh Whannell, Darren Lynn Bousman, James Wan, Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan, Thomas Fenton
Based on: Saw by James Wan, Leigh Whannell
Music by: Charlie Clouser
Cast: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Dina Meyer, Donnie Wahlberg, Lyriq Bent, Erik Knudsen, Franky G, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh, Mark Rolston, Julie Benz, Sean Patrick Flanery, Glenn Plummer, Beverly Mitchell, Meagan Good, 

Twisted Pictures, Lions Gate Films, 93 Minutes (Saw II), 108 Minutes (Saw III), 92 Minutes (Saw IV), 92 Minutes (Saw V), 90 Minutes (Saw VI), 90 Minutes (Saw VII) 

Review:

I wasn’t a fan of the Saw franchise after the original movie. In fact, I quit with the third film and haven’t watched any of them since that one debuted in theaters. Jigsaw died in that one and so I was fine moving on, as well.

After revisiting the first one to review, I figured I would just power through the original string of sequels since they were all on HBO Max.

Since these are all pretty dreadful, blend together in a convoluted clusterfuck and are almost indistinguishable from one another, by the time I got to the end of the fourth movie, I decided just to review them all together. So I pushed through all six of these movies over a weekend and what a miserable experience it was.

The second film is at least a new situation from the first but it also set the stage for what would generally be the formula going forward, which sees a group of people locked in a secret location, having to pass tests in an effort to survive and not be murdered by Jigsaw’s traps.

The third film sees an abducted doctor forced to keep Jigsaw alive, as long as she can. Meanwhile, her husband has to work his way through a test and others are brutalized.

Film four through seven are just rehashes of everything we’ve already seen. Sure, there are different characters with different sins that they have to atone for in Jigsaw’s game. However, we have one Jigsaw successor, then another, then his ex-wife who is also working for him and eventually we discover that the Cary Elwes doctor character from way back in the first movie, has been assisting all along too.

The first film was great because it had a stellar twist at the end. Each picture after it, though, tries to outdo it and ultimately, fails at trying to replicate the shock of the original film’s closing moments.

In fact, with each new plot twist, big reveal and eye-opening flashback, the overall story gets more and more complicated to the point that you really can’t follow any of it and I don’t think the filmmakers even cared about consistency and logic because they were pumping these things out, annually, in an effort to make hundreds of millions off of each movie, all of which cost a slight fraction of that.

Saw after the success of the first one became a soulless, heartless, pointless cash cow. It was pushed as far as it could go and it ultimately diminished what the first movie had built and the reputation it deservedly earned.

I also hate the visual style of these films. They look like a ’90s industrial music video, everything is choppily and rapidly edited and they’re overwhelmed by more violent, shrill, jarring flashbacks than my ‘Nam vet uncle on LSD.

The musical score is also overbearing a lot of the time. It’s like this series has one theme playing throughout the movie and when crazy, violent shit pops up, they simply raise the volume.

Additionally, outside of Tobin Bell, these things are terribly acted. As much as I like Bell as Jigsaw in spite of this shitty series, even his presence runs its course midway through this series. He basically just becomes this prop in each film for the writers and directors to hang their stinky ass ideas on.

People may want to point to other long-running horror franchise and call them pointless cash cows too but most of the movies in the Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc. franchises were at least fun and entertaining.

There is nothing fun about these movies. They’re just full of miserable people who do miserable things, trapped in a miserable situation that only extends their misery and the misery of the audience. I don’t know why people kept going to see these for seven fucking annual installments. But then again, some people really, really liked Limp Bizkit, JNCO jeans and Jerry Springer.

Saw II – Rating: 5/10
Saw III – Rating: 5.5/10
Saw IV – Rating: 4.25/10
Saw V – Rating: 4/10
Saw VI – Rating: 4/10
Saw VII – Rating: 4.25/10

 

Film Review: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)

Also known as: Greenbriar (working title), El Camino (informal title)
Release Date: October 7th, 2019 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Vince Gilligan
Written by: Vince Gilligan
Based on: Breaking Bad by Vince Gilligan
Music by: Dave Porter
Cast: Aaron Paul, Jesse Plemons, Krysten Ritter, Charles Baxter, Matt Jones, Scott Shepherd, Scott MacArthur, Tom Bower, Kevin Rankin, Larry Hankin, Tess Harper, Robert Forster, Jonathan Banks, Bryan Cranston

High Bridge Productions, Sony Pictures, Netflix, 122 Minutes

Review:

“You’re really lucky, you know that? You didn’t have to wait your whole life to do something special.” – Walt

I wouldn’t call this movie a disappointment but it was incredibly underwhelming. But I also didn’t have much anticipation for it and the fact that I put off watching it for nearly two years, shows my lack of enthusiasm for it.

The reason being is that I didn’t need this. I very easily assumed that Jesse was headed to Alaska after the finale of Breaking Bad. Seeing this movie just lets me know that I was right.

All this movie really was, was Jesse running a few dangerous errands while having flashbacks before he could actually leave for Alaska. Granted, based off of how much he was wanted by authorities, he really should’ve booked it to somewhere outside of the United States’ jurisdiction. But whatever, there are some other logic flaws with the story.

I feel like this was made just because fans have been clamoring for more Breaking Bad since the show ended. Well, they got the Better Call Saul show, which seems to be doing well and satisfying the fan base.

If a sequel needed to be made, I would’ve rather it come much later and we check in on Jesse years later. Maybe some dangerous character from his past is also hiding up in Alaska and recognizes him, setting off a crazy series of events. But whatever this movie was, I didn’t need to experience it.

This isn’t particularly bad but it isn’t particularly good either. The acting was actually pretty stellar but I didn’t expect it not to be.

El Camino is what happens someone like Netflix comes along and throws a lot of money at a creator who is apparently just out of gas.

In the end, there were only two real highlights in this for me. The first, was the scenes between Jesse, Skinny Pete and Badger. That does hit you in the feels. The second, was seeing Robert Forster go out with a bang, as he died just after this was released.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Benny Loves You (2019)

Release Date: November 21st, 2019 (Buenos Aires Rojo Sangre Film Festival)
Directed by: Karl Holt
Written by: Karl Holt
Cast: Karl Holt, Claire Cartwright, George Collie, James Parsons, David Wayman, Lydia Hourihan

Darkline Entertainment, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Benny loves you!” – Benny

I didn’t go into this expecting it to be a masterpiece but I did expect it to be a film full of mindless, fun escapism that might have been cool and actually funny.

While it was mindless, it was incredibly mindless and I had to constantly suspend disbelief at an unbelievable level, as the characters are all extremely stupid and vapid.

Sure, I can suspend disbelief enough to believe in a killer stuffed animal. But I can’t suspend it for that and then suspend it at an even greater level because the characters act in a way that is more unbelievable than the concept of a killer stuffed animal.

I don’t mind dumb movies but they’ve got to have something endearing about them. They need heart and a sincere effort into making the movie. The people behind it don’t have to be technically skilled but they’ve really got to put their heart in it in a way that shines through. Frankly, I didn’t get that from this movie. What I got felt like the opposite.

The film’s star is also its director and writer and maybe he stretched himself too thin. He definitely needed someone else to come in and help him rework the script in a way that was actually logical.

I don’t think this guy actually understands people and how they interact. Maybe that’s just who he is and maybe that’s why this movie didn’t have heart and thus, couldn’t be appreciated just on the effort that went into it. 

By the end, I was just pulling for Benny to win out and kill all these morons. I was disappointed in that regard too. 

Rating: 4/10