Documentary Review: Rock-n-Roll Never Dies: The Story of the Rock-n-Roll Express (2015)

Release Date: 2015
Directed by: Michael Elliot
Cast: Ricky Morton, Robert Gibson, Jim Cornette, various

EllBow Productions, Highspots, 117 Minutes

Review:

Watching this documentary, it kind of dawned on my that I have seen the Rock-n-Roll Express wrestle live and in person over five consecutive decades. I saw them in the ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, ’10s and the ’20s after recently seeing them at NWA Hard Times back in January before this COVID spectacle put the dead stop halt on Planet Earth.

While they’ve never been my all-time favorite tag team, they are certainly pretty high up on my list and have my respect for their contributions and longevity in the wrestling business. Hell, these guys can still go and they’ve proved that the two most recent times where I was able to see them.

So I was pretty stoked when I got this three disc set, which featured the documentary I’m now reviewing, as well as two other discs packed full of bonus material, interviews and matches.

As far as the documentary goes, it was a good, solid piece that covered these guys’ long and storied careers. It even goes back to the time before they were a team, showing how each man developed their style and how they eventually came together, forever changing the business and the tag team landscape.

So many other great teams have been inspired by the pairing of Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson and their effect is still felt today, even with the younger generation of wrestlers we have now, who are two-to-three generations removed from the height of the Rock-n-Roll Express’ career.

The best part about this piece, is hearing the stories that Ricky and Robert got to share about their history, as well as their takes on the business then and now.

Old school wrestling fans, especially those who loved the greatest tag team era, should thoroughly enjoy this.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other wrestling documentaries by EllBoy Productions and put out by Highspots.

Documentary Review: De Palma (2015)

Release Date: September 9th, 2015 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow
Cast: Brian De Palma

Empire Ward Pictures, A24, 110 Minutes

Review:

I watched three of Brian De Palma’s neo-noir thrillers two months back when I was celebrating the month of Noirvember. It was the first time that I had seen Dressed to Kill, Blow Out and Body Double and all three of them instantly became favorites of mine but in different ways. But they also inspired me to give this documentary about the man’s work a watch. And since this had been in my queue for a few years, I felt it was long overdue.

Sometimes documentaries about director’s careers can be bogged down by talking head interviews and choppily edited insight that the documentary director is using to make their point. However, this one just features Brian De Palma talking about his films and because of that, this was a spectacular filmmaking documentary.

To start, I like the vast majority of the man’s films, especially his work in the ’70s and ’80s. And what’s really awesome is that he spends a good amount of time talking about each film in his oeuvre: going through the behind the scenes details, the casting, the story ideas and the inspiration behind his work.

De Palma is a charismatic and interesting guy and having just him in this was a treat. Sure, I’d like to hear from some of the actors he worked with, as well as his peers, but I’m sure there will eventually be another De Palma documentary that allows others to discuss the man and his stellar work.

As far as I know, this is the only real comprehensive piece about De Palma’s whole career but this is a damn fine film that accomplishes what it set out to do, as it shined a light on some of the greatest motion pictures of all-time.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about other iconic filmmakers’ total bodies of work: Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures and Magician: The Astonishing Life & Work of Orson Welles.

Documentary Review: Los Angeles: City of Film-Noir (2015)

Also known as: Los Angeles: Cité du Film Noir (original French title)
Release Date: February 28th, 2015 (France)
Directed by: Clara Kuperberg, Julia Kuperberg
Written by: Clara Kuperberg, Julia Kuperberg
Cast: James Ellroy, Eddie Muller, Alain Silver

Wichita Films, 52 Minutes

Review:

This is a short one hour documentary that specifically focuses on film-noir that has encapsulated the City of Los Angeles.

The documentary features only three people, which doesn’t seem like enough but all three men do have extensive knowledge on the subject.

James Ellroy has lived in L.A. his entire life and has written noir-esque crime novels, two of which were made into major neo-noir motion pictures: L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia.

Eddie Muller is a film-noir historian that runs the Film-Noir Foundation, restoring lost noir classics to HD beauty, as well as having gone on to host the Turner Classic Movies weekly program, Noir Alley.

Alain Silver is a film producer and author that has spent extensive time working in the realm of noir.

So there’s a lot of meat and potatoes here to chew on in regards to the subject matter.

Still, more talking heads would’ve been great and I think that this is something that could’ve gone on for longer than 52 minutes because of how interesting the subject matter is.

If you dig classic film-noir, this is certainly worth a watch. In fact, as opposed to just a trailer, I posted the full documentary below.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on film-noir. Several can be found on YouTube.

TV Review: Road to the NHL Stadium Series – Sharks v. Kings (2015)

Original Run: February, 2015
Written by: Aaron Cohen
Cast: Bill Camp (narrator)

Ross Greenberg Productions, EPIX, 4 Episodes, 60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

This four-part documentary series is a sister program to EPIX’s Road to the NHL Winter Classic.

Where the Road to the NHL Winter Classic followed the Chicago Blackhawks and the Washington Capitals, this documentary series follows the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, who are bitter rivals. The fact that the Sharks and Kings hate each other is what added a bit more credence and excitement to what was at stake in this documentary.

In recent years, the Kings have won two Stanley Cups and a lot of bragging rights. The San Jose Sharks have spent a decade or so as a real contender for the Cup but have fallen just short on a number of occasions. Many times, it has been at the hands of the hated Kings.

This series follows many of the key players on both teams, as well as the coaches and gives an intimate view of the behind the scenes stuff that most fans aren’t privy to. It tells the story, in their words, and is beautifully shot and edited – following the precedent set by the Road to the NHL Winter Classic.

All of this builds up to the big crescendo, which is the Sharks and Kings fighting it out on the ice in a Stadium Series game. For those who don’t know, the Stadium Series is comprised of outdoor hockey games held in massive venues. In this case, they played at Levi Stadium in San Francisco, CA.

If you are a hockey fan or just a fan of sports documentaries, this is a pretty unique series to watch. It plays like a second season of the Road to the NHL Winter Classic but its cast of characters and story is its own. And like its predecessor, you can check it out on Netflix streaming.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other EPIX NHL documentary series.

 

Film Review: Sicario (2015)

Release Date: May 19th, 2015 (Cannes)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Music by: Johann Johannsson
Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan

Black Label Media, Thunder Road, Lionsgate, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything that we do, but in the end you will understand.” – Alejandro

This is a film that I put off watching because there was a lot of hype about it when it came out. Had I watched it in 2015 or even 2016, I probably would’ve lost my shit.

Reason being, this is nowhere near as good as the critics and my friends led me to believe.

In fact, other than less than a handful of scenes, this is a boring fucking movie that doesn’t seem to have much of a point.

I mean, I get it, the drug cartels in Mexico are fucked up. But I’ve known this and seen this in lots of film and television shows that are far better than this.

With the cast and a very capable director I was expected an intense, badass neo-western in the vein of No Country For Old Men and Hell or High Water. Sadly, this doesn’t hold a candle to those films and it is just a few cool action sequences and one intense dinner scene, strung together with moral babble and Emily Blunt not doing much other than looking offended and confused.

I can see why she didn’t come back for a sequel but her character was completely vacant anyway and it didn’t really matter that she was in this film. And that’s not to knock Blunt, she’s an incredibly capable actress. However, they could’ve just taken all her close ups in this movie, spliced them into the sequel and no one would’ve been the wiser, as she is just sort of in the film as an observer and moral compass.

Now I can’t completely shit on the film. The high points were actually good and intense. The dinner scene has incredible tension but at the same time, the end result of that scene is not shocking and has little effect. It’s more fucked up than shocking.

Also, the cinematography and shot framing were incredible. This is a good looking film from start to finish and that’s probably its biggest positive. But I can get these things in a music video from a talented director of photography. Alluring visuals are great and they are important but they can’t be the sole driving force of a film.

For instance, The Revenant was visually breathtaking but none of that would’ve mattered if the rest of the film was a crap factory.

I absolutely love the modernized western film but they are really hard to do well. Sicario doesn’t deliver on much but I’ll still probably check out the sequel just to review it.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the sequel and other neo-westerns, most of which are better than this.

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: 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

Film Review: Deathgasm (2015)

Also known as: Heavy Metal Apocalypse (US video box title)
Release Date: March 14th, 2015 (SXSW)
Directed by: Jason Lei Howden
Written by: Jason Lei Howden
Music by: Chris van de Geer, Joost Langeveld, various
Cast: Milo Cawthorne, James Blake, Kimberley Crossman, Sam Berkley, Daniel Cresswell

Metalheads, MPI Media Group, New Zealand Film Commission, Timpson Films, Dark Sky Films, 86 Minutes

Review:

“My Uncle Albert was balls-deep into Jesus. He thought Ricky Martin was heavy. He heard me cranking some Disemboweled Corpse and he hasn’t slept for days.” – Brodie

There aren’t enough heavy metal horror movies, which is a shame as the style of both of these great art forms seem like a perfect pairing. This is one of the few that aren’t terrible but at the same time, this isn’t fantastic either.

Still, it’s an enjoyable watch and most of the characters are likable and have good chemistry. The film also has some funny lines sprinkled throughout and the girl is super hot, which is important in metal and horror.

The downside to this New Zealand movie though, is that it borrows so heavily from its influences that it’s a bit too blatant. While many directors do this sort of thing (Zombie and Tarantino), it’s just never been a creative choice that plays to the strength of filmmaking. Homages are cool and a hat tip to your influences is nice but I prefer films that stand on their own and can be their own thing. This is sort of just a mish mash of its influences with the gore turned up to 11 (but not quite a 12 like Dead-Alive). At least when Tarantino does the same sort of thing, he still creates a film that has enough of its own identity. Rob Zombie, not so much.

But as far as the borrowing being too blatant, as I stated last paragraph, it might not be noticeable at all to younger film fans that haven’t watched 1986’s Trick or Treat a half dozen times. And maybe the writer/director Jason Lei Howden was banking on that. But old school horror fans will probably notice.

Anyway, I don’t want to sound like I’m shitting on the movie but it is worth a watch, once. Well, maybe a second time if you really liked it but I don’t see anyone calling Deathgasm a modern horror classic. That being said, it is still a better horror movie at its core than what is the norm for the genre over the past decade or two.

I didn’t have much urge to watch this and it actually floated around in my Netflix queue for a really long time until the service pulled it down after more than a year. But since this was featured on Joe Bob Brigg’s The Last Drive-In, I figured now was as good of a time as any to check it out.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: 1986’s Trick or TreatThe Gate, The Gate II: TrespassersBrainscan and Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare.

Documentary Review: Ferrell Takes the Field (2015)

Release Date: September 12th, 2015
Directed by: Brian McGinn
Music by: John Jennings Boyd, Brian Langsbard
Cast: Will Ferrell

Funny or Die, Gary Sanchez Productions, Major League Baseball, HBO, 49 Minutes

Review:

This is a documentary of something real but being that this is focused on Will Ferrell, he plays it up almost as if it’s a mockumentary. I get that he feels the need to be funny but I think this would have been cooler had it actually documented this event with a more realistic approach.

Still, this is fairly entertaining.

I’m pretty sure that HBO wanted to make this into more of a spectacle for ratings purposes and I guess it works for Ferrell fans.

This short film follows Will Ferrell as he plays ten different positions for ten different Major League Baseball teams over five Spring Training games in the Cactus League. The purpose behind the stunt is so that he can raise money for cancer charities.

For fans of baseball, especially Spring Training, this is pretty cool to watch, as you see Ferrell travel Arizona and visit different ballparks. Being a Floridian, I would have rather he done this in the Grapefruit League but Arizona is cool too.

It’s fun seeing Ferrell interact with real MLB players and managers but as a documentary, this doesn’t do much to make me care about his charitable work and the true meaning behind this publicity stunt. I’m glad that Ferrell and company looked to be enjoying themselves but something more organic and natural probably would have benefited the film’s audience and the charitable work more.

I get that Will Ferrell is a funny guy but he didn’t need to be “in character” from start to finish. Show your human side, man. Be natural for once and show the world why this actually means so much to you. We can still laugh along the way because the humor still would have surfaced.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Will Ferrell’s sports comedies.

TV Review: The Expanse (2015- )

Original Run: December 14th, 2015 – current
Created by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Expanse series of novel by James S. A. Corey
Music by: Clinton Shorter
Cast: Thomas Jane, Steven Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Paulo Costanzo, Florence Faivre, Shawn Doyle, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Frankie Adams, Chad L. Coleman, Jared Harris, Francois Chau, Cara Gee, Elizabeth Mitchell

Penguin in a Parka, SeanDanielCo, Alcon Entertainment, Legendary Television Distribution, Syfy, Amazon, 36 Episodes (so far), 42-44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Man, this show really leaves you with a lot to unpack and process. And I mean that in the best way possible.

I had heard a lot of good things about The Expanse and it has been in my queue for a long time. But I figured the time to watch it was now, as it is getting ready to be resurrected by Amazon after it was recently cancelled by Syfy.

Having now seen this, I can’t imagine how it was cancelled other than the ratings just not being there. A show like this is expensive to produce but at the same time, it’s also one of those shows that’s special and you can see that it will find its audience. But maybe that just didn’t happen fast enough for Syfy, just as Halt and Catch Fire had its plug pulled by AMC after four seasons before it started to catch on through word of mouth and streaming services. Now I hear people talk about that show more than when it was on and that seems to be the same with The Expanse now that people feared its axing would be permanent.

I was immediately captivating by the opening sequence of the first episode of this show. It lured you in, was bizarre and it kicked off a big mystery. Little did I know that the mystery itself was just a tiny thread on a large tapestry that once pulled, would keep unraveling in surprising and shocking ways.

This show throws a lot of curveballs while hitting you in the feels and as turbulent as the narrative can be, it works and it keeps you hooked. In fact, this show starts out quite slow but it keeps adding new layers. This is meticulously crafted and I’m not sure if they knew what the long term plan was when they started writing this show or how closely it follows its source material but just after three seasons, this show has a mythos with a lot of depth and a richness that is missing in most television shows and films.

The show does an absolutely stellar job of developing its characters. Almost everyone is likable, even if everyone has very apparent flaws. Somehow, everyone is pretty relatable. Well, except for the human monsters that are doing terrible things behind the scenes.

Additionally, the show is superbly acted. Thomas Jane was a big factor in getting me to watch this in the first place but he’s just one of many talented people. The one person that just shines incredibly brightly is Shohreh Aghdashloo. I’ve always enjoyed her in other things but man, she was born to play the role of Chrisjen Avasarala. She is front and center of every scene she’s in and she makes every talented actor around her, just a bit better.

The world that this takes place in his a future where Earth has colonized Mars, the Moon, the asteroid belt and some of Jupiter’s moons. Things start with tensions at an all-time high and war could break out at any second. And while this features spaceships and space travel, I love that the weapons aren’t lasers and photon torpedoes but that the ships are decked out with Gatling guns, rail guns and nuclear warheads. It makes this world seem more plausible and closer to reality than stuff like Star TrekBattlestar Galactica or The Orville.

The Expanse may not grab your attention right away but it is worth sticking with into the second season where this show’s universe really starts to open up and expand in unforeseen ways.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: it’s hard to say, really. There’s nothing like this show but the closest would probably be the modern reimagining of Battlestar Galactica.