Documentary Review: Spielberg (2017)

Release Date: October 5th, 2017 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Susan Lacy
Cast: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Richard Dreyfuss, John Williams, J.J. Abrams, James Brolin, Bob Balaban, Tom Hanks, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, Oprah Winfrey, Frank Marshall, Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Robert Zemeckis, Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter, Dustin Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tom Cruise, Eric Bana, Daniel Craig

HBO Documentary Films, Pentimento Productions, 147 Minutes

Review:

This was a pretty stellar documentary for fans of not just Steven Spielberg but filmmaking and film history in general.

It reminded me a lot of the 2001 documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures, in that this spent a lot of time breaking down most of the key movies in Spielberg’s oeuvre.

Every segment here was rich, detailed and featured interviews with some major directors, actors and producers. But the film also gets into Spielberg’s personal life and how real life experiences influenced his movies.

This was a lengthy documentary, just as the Kubrick one was and rightfully so. In fact, this could have been the length of a ten part, two hour apiece Ken Burns documentary and I still would have been fully engaged.

Spielberg’s career has been long and full of at least a dozen classic films that will be remembered forever. Each segment could’ve been it’s own documentary film and it actually kind of sucks that a few films were mentioned but not given as much detail, most notably A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, the Jurassic Park sequels and some of his production work like Back to the Future.

Still, this is pretty thorough and there is so much to unpack and take away from this. It is one of the best documentaries on a filmmaker’s life and career.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on specific directors but this reminded me a lot of Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures.

Documentary Review: David Bowie: The Last Five Years (2017)

Release Date: January 7th, 2017 (UK)
Directed by: Francis Whatley
Music by: David Bowie
Cast: David Bowie (archive footage), Michael C. Hall, Sophia Anne Caruso, Toni Basil

BBC, HBO, 90 Minutes

Review:

I own more David Bowie records than any other musical act. I actually own every single album in some form or another. I have almost all of them on CD, except maybe two, I have many on tape and in recent years, I’ve come to own many of them on vinyl. He is, hands down, my favorite recording artist of all-time. Hell, in the nearly 50 years that he released albums, there isn’t even one that I find mediocre.

So when Bowie died, it was a big blow to me. Sure, I’ve felt it pretty hard when other artists have died but Bowie felt immortal and there was something about his long and storied musical history that touched me in ways other artists couldn’t.

Not to sound sappy but it took some time before I felt like watching this. I finally got around to it and I was really happy with how this documentary turned out, as it covers Bowie’s life in his final five years. Granted, it does go back further than that and spends some time talking about his Reality Tour in 2003.

The documentary features interviews and insight from a lot of the people that worked with Bowie during his last few years. There are no interviews with family but that’s okay, as this came out about a year after his death and I’m sure it was a bit too soon for them to feel as if they should chime in.

The interviews are all pretty solid and informative, though, and they really paint a picture of the man’s later years, how he was still passionate and how he viewed things like fame, especially later in life.

This goes into the production of Bowie’s later albums, music videos and a stage musical that he wrote and produced.

For Bowie fans, this is definitely worth a watch. If anything, it will make you miss the man, his infectious charisma and his pure, unlimited talent.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other recent music documentaries: Gimme Danger and A Band Called Death.

Documentary Review: Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary (2017)

Release Date: January 13th, 2017
Directed by: John Campopiano, Justin White
Written by: John Campopiano, Justin White
Music by: Douglas Harper, Kurt Oldman
Cast: Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby, Mary Lambert, Miko Hughes, Blaze Berdahl, Brad Greenquist, Stephen King, Heather Langenkamp

Ocean’s Light Productions, 75 Minutes

Review:

Sometimes documentaries about movies are better than the movies themselves. While some people love Pet Sematary, it’s not one of my favorites. But since I just revisited it and reviewed it, I wanted to check out this documentary about its creation.

I love documentaries about filmmaking and storytelling. So this was right up my alley.

What’s really interesting about this is the backstory about the novel and what inspired Stephen King to write it in the first place. Also, the novel’s story is pretty neat too, as it goes into how the publisher wouldn’t put it out due to it featuring the death of a child. But ultimately, the book did see print and eventually led to the film, which also went through some of its own issues in getting green lit.

Unfortunately, Fred Gwynne died a few years after the movie came out but this documentary still rounds up the entire cast apart from the great veteran actor. I loved hearing them share their experiences.

This also delves into the impact the film’s production had on the small Maine community where it was filmed.

One of the highlights for me, was the production footage and photos of the behind the scenes stuff from constructing a spooky house to how they did the make up and special effects, as well as rounding up a lot of the key behind the scenes people to talk about it at great length.

In a way, this actually made me appreciate the finished film more than I did before seeing what went into it being produced. So maybe I’ll watch it again soon.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Pet Sematary and Pet Sematary Two, also any Stephen King movies from the ’70s through ’90s.

TV Review: The Orville (2017- )

Original Run: September 10th, 2017 – current
Created by: Seth MacFarlane
Directed by: Seth MacFarlane, various
Written by: Seth MacFarlane, various
Music by: Bruce Broughton, Joel McNeely, John Debney, Andrew Cottee
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, Halston Sage, J. Lee, Mark Jackson, Jessica Szohr, Victor Garber, Chad Coleman, Norm Macdonald, Jason Alexander, Patrick Warburton, Rob Lowe, Robert Picardo, Larry Joe Campbell, Kelly Hu, Rachael MacFarlane (voice)

Fuzzy Door Productions, 20th Century Fox Television, Fox, 12 Episodes (so far), 44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’ve heard nothing but good things about The Orville. I intended to watch it last year, after the first season wrapped up, but life throws curveballs and I didn’t get to it until the current, second season, started.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a show that looked to be a parody of Star Trek from the man behind Family Guy. I’m not a big fan of that show but I also don’t really dig animated comedies, at least since the earliest days of South Park.

This doesn’t reflect the same sort of humor style or tone of Family Guy, however. It’s just really f’n clever and beyond the comedy, this show is written in a way that makes it very clear that Seth MacFarlane truly is a fan of Star Trek and most notably, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It feels as if it most directly parodies TNG and some of Voyager. But I can’t really call it a parody, even if it seemed to start out that way.

Yes, there is a lot of humor but it is almost secondary and as the show progresses, it learns to balance itself better between comedy and real drama. In fact, the comedy is used perfectly in how it eases tension and emotions in the right moments.

As of now, having seen about 15 episodes of this show, I can say that it is the best version of Star Trek since Deep Space Nine left the air in 1999, twenty years ago. The Orville is more Star Trek than modern Star Trek. It understands the source material it borrows from better than any of the film or television writers that have tried to resurrect it over the last two decades.

Everything about The Orville just feels right. If it maintains its momentum, I’ll have to adjust the rating and make it higher. I’m skeptical that it can maintain this trajectory over the long haul but I also don’t think that it’ll ever devolve into something terrible.

Thus far, I love this show and I can’t thank Seth MacFarlane enough for plugging a large hole in my fanboy heart.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager.

Film Review: Thoroughbreds (2017)

Also known as: Thoroughbred (festival title)
Release Date: January 21st, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Cory Finley
Written by: Cory Finley
Music by: Erik Friedlander
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift

June Pictures, B Story, Big Indie Pictures, Focus Features, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“You cannot hesitate. The only thing worse than being incompetent, or being unkind, or being evil, is being indecisive.” – Amanda

I’ve been wanting to see this for about two years, after reading about it following its premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. It was said to be “smart”, “quirky”, “unpredictable” and a mashup between American Psycho and Heathers.

It really isn’t any of those things, unfortunately. Okay, maybe it has a small dose of Heathers mixed in but it certainly doesn’t come close to the darkness one experiences in watching American Psycho.

I also didn’t find it to be “smart”, “quirky” or “unpredictable”.

I don’t want to take a big shit on this film, as I did moderately enjoy it and bits were amusing. Plus, I thought Anya Taylor-Joy and Anton Yelchin’s performances were terrific.

I just couldn’t buy into Olivia Cooke’s Amanda with her emotionless, dead pan delivery. I get that this is what her character is supposed to be but she doesn’t truly commit to the bit. You see, even though she isn’t supposed to care about anything, she is still conveniently driven by things in a way that seems to betray her own character.

Cooke’s Amanda was the apathetic angsty teen that acts overly depressed and always talks about it, probably for attention at first but somewhere along the line has bought into her own bullshit. I’ve dealt with major depression my entire life and people who act like her are typically attention seekers, even if they are legitimately broken. But I don’t think she was intended to be portrayed that way, I feel as if the director/writer actually bought into her bullshit too. But I guess that really just makes it his own bullshit.

Amanda is not quirky. She also isn’t smart. And as far as the plot goes, it isn’t unpredictable, it is actually very predictable. From the get-go, you know there is going to be a dark twist of some sort by the end and you also know that the stepfather will die somehow. But when that twist comes, it’s not all that shocking or surprising, it just limps its way into the narrative and all the ultraviolence that should come with something that’s compared to American Psycho, happens off screen.

I’m not saying that gore was necessary for this film to work but this was tame when compared to the things that modern critics have associated it with.

The big scene where the shit hits the fan is comprised of a still longshot that lasts a few minutes, as Amanda is passed out on the couch and you hear a loud, violent commotion upstairs. It’s a trope that’s been overused by indie filmmaking darlings for decades and its mostly lost its effectiveness. Or maybe I’ve just watched too many movies over the years.

But the point is that there is nothing new here and the promised shocks and surprises limp into the plot like a rat stuck to a glue trap.

Thoroughbreds isn’t a terrible motion picture but it is an underwhelming and disappointing one. It’s only real saving grace was the performances by two of its top three stars.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Heathers and Jawbreaker.

Documentary Review: So Much Damage: How Image Comics Changed the World (2017)

Original Run: November 20th, 2017
Directed by: Jon Erwin
Written by: Michael Avila
Music by: Paul Terry

Syfy, 5 Episodes, 15 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This is the second documentary I have seen on Image Comics but this isn’t just a rehash of what was already covered in the slightly superior The Image Revolution.

This one was broken out into five 15 minute web episodes and put out by Syfy, who used to be the much cooler Sci-Fi Channel before they changed their channel’s spelling into something stupid.

Anyway, like The Image Revolution this documentary interviews all the key players and gets their stories. But what I like most about this is how it spends a good deal of time talking more about modern Image Comics and not just the revolution of 1991. As cool as that revolt was, modern Image has grown into something that I don’t feel any of the founding members could have fathomed back then.

It’s always fun to hear these guys talk about themselves, their experiences and the creation of Image, as it was a really exciting thing for me to experience as a fan in 1991. It was and still is the coolest thing that happened in the comic book industry in my lifetime.

So this certainly stirs up nostalgia but that doesn’t mean that this survives on that alone. It’s informative, has a good pace and is well organized and presented.

Younger comic book fans today will probably find some value in this, even though it’s made to attract the older fans who remember all of this like it was yesterday.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Image Revolution and Chris Claremont’s X-Men.

 

Film Review: Kaiju Bunraku (2017)

Release Date: March, 2017 (Glasgow Short Film Festival)
Directed by: Lucas Leyva, Jillian Mayer
Written by: Lucas Leyva

Borscht, 13 Minutes

Review:

A short film made in America about two cool things from Japanese culture coming together? Count me in!

This short was a great homage to the art of bunraku, which are Japanese puppets usually used on the stage to act out historical dramas. It’s also a good homage to old school kaiju films, especially those put out by Toho, as this actually features Mothra and includes the sound effects of Godzilla’s iconic roar.

The story is about a husband and wife in the era of feudal Japan. They are trying to reach shelter, as a kaiju attack is happening near their village. The big finale sees the husband come face to face with the larva form of Mothra.

There’s not much else to say about it, as it is really short. I almost would have liked to have seen this concept in a broader sense but it was probably a difficult endeavor in trying to create the 13 minutes that we got here.

I did enjoy it nonetheless. The puppetry was well done, the puppets, especially the Mothra one, were beautiful and the story was interesting.

All in all, this was a great concept but this film feels more like an experiment and a light exploration of that experiment. I’d like to see the filmmakers do something bigger with the idea because I think it deserves further exploration.

But if you like kaiju, bunraku or just Japanese culture in general, this is a cool way to spend 13 minutes.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the kaiju film that inspired it, 1964’s Mothra vs. Godzilla, as well as the short films of Niki Lindroth von Bahr.