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: 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

TV Review: Lost Territory: The Best of Continental Wrestling (2019)

Original Run: April 24th, 2001 (DVD Box Set)

Jadat Sports, 5 Episodes, 401 Minutes (total)

Review:

This was a five-disc set that I found on Amazon for a pretty good price, considering how much stuff was packed onto each disc.

This is a compilation featuring matches and angles specifically from Continental Championship Wrestling in the era when it was ran by Ron Fuller.

CCW is a little known territory to those outside of Knoxville in the ’80s. In more recent years, thanks to tape traders in the ’90s getting the ball rolling, the small wrestling territory has become more widely known due to how bonkers some of the angles were and because of how much talent moved in and out of the company.

Watching this collection is like watching a who’s who compilation of legends featured in matches most people haven’t seen.

This was a pretty cool set and watching each disc was a treat and they flew by rather quickly.

All in all, this was a great set bought at a great value. What’s not to love for the old school wrestling aficionado like myself?

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other wrestling compilations of the territories in the ’70s and ’80s.

Film Review: We Summon the Darkness (2019)

Release Date: February 28th, 2019 (Mammoth Film Festival – US)
Directed by: Marc Meyers
Written by: Alan Trezza
Music by: Timothy Williams
Cast: Alexandra Daddario, Keean Johnson, Maddie Hasson, Logan Miller, Amy Forsyth, Austin Swift, Johnny Knoxville

Common Enemy, thefyzz, Magna Entertainment, Saban Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

I grew up in the ’80s and I’ve always been nostalgic about that decade (and the early ’90s, as well). However, Hollywood has kind of ruined that, as they continue to tap ’80s nostalgia, again and again, because they don’t have original ideas and want to piggyback off of the success of the phenomenon that was the first season of Stranger Things, which is now five years-old.

We Summon the Darkness sets itself in 1988 rural Indiana, which is also the state where Stranger Things takes place. However, once you watch the film, it could’ve taken place in any time and didn’t need to be an “eighties” flick. Heavy metal still exists, as do crazy, religious fanatics. But whatever.

The film is also predictable as hell and pretty damn disappointing. I actually like Alexandra Daddario and not just because she’s fucking gorgeous. However, she’s insufferable in this and that’s not because she’s the main villain. Something about the performance is just off-putting where it should actually be really sexy and cool in the same way that hot horror villainesses of the past were sexy and cool.

Maybe this is due to Daddario also being a producer on the movie and she felt like she had to try a lot harder. And really, her performance feels like one of an actor trying way too hard.

The rest of the cast is just okay. No one really stands out but I did enjoy Maddie Hasson’s character, as the sidekick killer that always had to pee. I thought her performance was more natural, less forced and she brought some good comedic timing in at points.

Everyone else is totally forgettable except for Johnny Knoxville, whose role is minor but is still really effective. In fact, there’s one scene where he really has to act and he does fine with it.

As far as the plot, the film follows three females that lure three metal heads to their country mansion after a concert. They then drug the dudes, tie them to chairs and try to murder them in the same fashion as a Satanic cult. They actually aren’t a Satanic cult but they are trying to use the Satanic panic of the time to lure people towards their Jesus cult… or something. I don’t know, the whole premise is kind of retarded.

We Summon the Darkness is just dull and unimpressive and it’s also derivative as hell while believing itself to be cool, edgy and unique.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other horror films about cults, killer families or weird small towns.

Film Review: Color Out of Space (2019)

Also known as: The Color from Out Off Space (working title)
Release Date: September 7th, 2019 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Richard Stanley
Written by: Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris
Based on: The Colour Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Colin Stetson
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Elliot Knight, Madeleine Arthur, Q’orianka Kilcher, Tommy Chong

SpectreVision, ACE Pictures Entertainment, XYZ Films, 111 Minutes

Review:

“What touched this place cannot be quantified or understood by human science. It was just a color out of space. A messenger from realms whose existence stuns the brain and numbs us with the gulfs that it throws open before our frenzied eyes.” – Ward

Many films are called a “mindfuck” but that might actually be an overstatement when those films are compared to Color Out of Space, which takes the viewer on a maddening ride into a very unique and different Hell.

This movie is absolutely batshit crazy but I loved it. It’s a modernized adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story and it was directed by Richard Stanley, who was a pretty accomplished indie filmmaker before leaving his craft after the drama that was 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. I’m really glad that Stanley came back to making cinematic art, though, and I’d have to say that this is his best movie. That’s kind of incredible when you think about it too, as it’s his first picture in a quarter of a century!

This movie also has both Nic Cage and Tommy Chong in it, which just adds to the bonkers story and the performances it needed to pull out of its cast. That being said, everyone in this is pretty damn good and I especially liked Cage and Chong, as well as the actress who plays the daughter and the actor who plays the scientist that’s trying to save the family from their bizarre and horrific fate.

It’s actually kind of hard to define the story or give it a proper synopsis and I also don’t want to spoil too much. However, in a nutshell, a strange meteor lands in a family’s front yard and with it, strange things start happening to the people and the Earth around the meteor site. Unfortunately for the family, they are a dozen or more miles away from anyone else.

This film is also visually stunning, almost unbelievably so. Richard Stanley brought this twisted, strange tale to cinematic life and everything he did from the lighting to the special effects that he managed, just turned out perfect. As unbelievable and surreal as the picture is, you’re never really pulled out of it and that’s a testament to Stanley’s skill and how well this was all executed.

Color Out of Space, at times, can feel like sensory overload but there’s still a vibrant beauty about it all.

Going into this, I was pretty sure I’d enjoy it, but it exceeded those expectations a bit and I found it hard to look away. Also, this film just flew by.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Richard Stanley’s earlier films, as well as Mandy with Nicolas Cage.

Documentary Review: Tread (2019)

Release Date: March 8th, 2019 (SXSW)
Directed by: Paul Solet
Music by: Austin Wintory
Cast: various

Zipper Bros Films, Sutter Road Picture Company, Netflix, 89 Minutes

Review:

This is a film about Marvin Heemeyer, a man tired of his small town elites’ bullshit. In response, he decided to build a “killdozer” in order to get revenge on them.

Despite the name the machine was given by the media, Heemeyer didn’t kill anyone and that wasn’t his plan. Instead, he wanted an unstoppable machine of his own making to turn the buildings and businesses of his enemies into rubble. Heemeyer succeeded in destroying thirteen buildings in his small Colorado mountain town. Once his destruction came to an end, he took his own life with a gun inside of his rolling fortress.

As nutty as this story was, it wasn’t as big of a new story as one would probably expect. I vaguely remembered it but it was overshadowed by the death of Ronald Reagan and all the post-9/11 conflict that was going on.

This documentary did a solid job of giving the viewer the backstory to Heemeyer’s fateful last day.

It went through who the man was, how he came to hate the leaders of his community and how he went about constructing this mechanical beast in secret. I feel like the documentary was fair to everyone, except maybe Heemeyer, as he obviously wasn’t alive to give his point-of-view.

Everything comes to a head in the third act of the film, as we get to see that final day play out with commentary from those who were there mixed with actual clips and reenactment footage to fill in the blanks.

This is a sad story about a guy that didn’t need to take his own life but it’s also relatable to anyone who has had the system work against them. I imagine that’s most people on some level. With that, Heemeyer became a sort of folk hero, whether he was right or wrong.

Tread is a good film about this intriguing and tragic story. I wish the end had a more positive outcome but I guess “it is what it is”, as they say.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Netflix true story and crime documentaries.

TV Review: Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men (2019)

Original Run: May 10th, 2019 – May 31st, 2019
Created by: Sacha Jenkins
Directed by: Sacha Jenkins
Written by: Paul Greenhouse, Sacha Jenkins, Peter J. Scalettar
Music by: J. Ralph, Wu-Tang Clan
Cast: Wu-Tang Clan, various

Showtime, 4 Episodes, 58-59 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I don’t know why I didn’t know about this documentary series until a few weeks ago. I’m a lifelong fan of Wu-Tang Clan and if I’m being honest, they’re one of the few music groups that actually had an effect on my life. They forever changed hip-hop music and culture and since that was something I was a part of in my younger years, it changed the way I was doing things and my creative approach to making my own music.

This was actually quite great and I enjoyed this immensely. It really goes through the history of Wu-Tang before they were even formed up until now.

With this, you get to have an intimate view into their lives, past and present, you meet their families and you get to hear their personal stories about their struggles and triumphs.

You also learn a lot about the group behind the scenes and how even with their differences over the years, they always find a way back home to each other.

For fans of the group, there are some sad, disheartening moments in this. However, by the time you get to the end, you really understand their bond and it’s actually really inspirational to see how they still come together and unify as a family. This sort of unity is unheard of in the music industry, especially when this group has now existed for three decades.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the Hulu drama series about Wu-Tang Clan’s lives, as well as other music documentaries.

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.

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.