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: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Release Date: September 24th, 1986 (Chicago International Film Festival)
Directed by: John McNaughton
Written by: Richard Fire, John McNaughton
Music by: Ken Hale, Steven A. Jones, Robert McNaughton
Cast: Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold

Maljack Productions, Greycat Films, 83 Minutes, 75 Minutes (TV edit)

Review:

“How about those Bears?” – Store Clerk, “Fuck the Bears.” – Henry

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a brutal f’n movie. However, it’s also very slow and drawn out more than it needs to be. Now I get the old school suspense thriller style of building up tension but it’s not effective here and it makes 75 percent of this movie pretty damn boring.

I get that this movie has its fans but I’m really not one of them.

Now this film does have three distinct positives.

One, the acting is superb. Michael Rooker is more chilling than ever and since I’m a big fan of Rooker, I do like this film as far as his performance goes. He went to some really dark places here but what’s most interesting about it, is that he showed how capable of an actor he was even in his younger years.

Two, I like the cinematography and how this film was shot. The lighting was done well, the shot framing was better than one would anticipate and overall, the visual aesthetic enhanced the tone of the story, greatly.

Three, the score is unsettling but interesting in a way that also enhanced the film and its effect.

Sadly, the pacing just undoes a lot of the good.

Additionally, this is an extremely violent picture and while I don’t have a problem with gore, when there’s a real purpose for it, this film seems to use it just to push the bar and maybe that’s because the rest of the picture is so dull. The film does seem like it’s trying too hard to be shocking in those scenes.

I’m not sure if this was trying to pass itself off as high art but it’s definitely not high art. It’s not necessarily a proto-Silence of the Lambs, as much as it just feels like a gore riddled Manhunter.

But for fans of Rooker, it is worth a watch for sure.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs.

Documentary Review: Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods (2010)

Release Date: October 9th, 2010 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Patrick Meaney

Sequart Organization, Respect! Films, Halo-8 Entertainment, 80 Minutes

Review:

I have really enjoyed the comic book documentaries that Patrick Meaney has made. However, this one was kind of a dud, which is unfortunate, as I have liked some of Grant Morrison’s work over the years.

This was also Meaney’s first documentary, so there’s that.

What I mean, is that this felt amateurish and the editing wasn’t as good as it became in his later films. This was mostly talking head interviews and even then, most of them were just one or two sentence blurbs that came out pretty rapidly. Also, this was definitely a puff piece where everyone interviewed just praised Morrison like he was the second coming.

A lot of this felt insincere. And I don’t mean that to knock Morrison but this wasn’t a good documentary or very interesting. I anticipated really delving into the man and really getting some insight into his best work. Instead, this is just a bunch of people trying to sell you on Morrison, a guy you probably already know if you’re taking the time out to watch this.

I don’t care that he’s an alien abducted wizard and how “cool” this “rockstar” is, I want to know more about his creative process and why he did certain things a certain way. There’s a lot of “Oh, yeah… that was great! And then so and so stole it for this movie!”

This was just a lot of people giving Morrison a community wide handjob, telling us he’s great but not actually telling us what makes him great and why his work is great.

This was a real bore to get through but I’m glad that Meaney’s documentaries got better. Check out the one on Image Comics and the one on Chris Claremont. Those were infinitely more engaging than this was.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: Patrick Meaney’s other comic book documentaries but his later ones are much better.

Documentary Review: Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (2017)

Also known as: Amazing Grace (Germany)
Release Date: September 7th, 2017 (TIFF)
Directed by: Sophie Fiennes
Music by: Grace Jones
Cast: Grace Jones

Blinder Films, Sligoville, Amoeba Film, 115 Minutes

Review:

After seeing the trailer, I was pretty excited to check this documentary out. I’ve always liked Grace Jones, as she’s always just been herself and doesn’t really seem to compromise her art, music or persona for anyone or anything.

Sadly, I was disappointed with what we got. But the main reason is that I had hoped that this would have been more of a biographical documentary about her life, her style, her films and her music.

What this is, is a concert movie where the performances are broken up by long clips of every day life stuff. But none of it is terribly interesting, as the cameras just role and you don’t always fully understand the context of what you’re watching.

It’s nice seeing Grace with her family in Jamaica, eating dinner, and seeing her work on her upcoming album. However, a lot of this is her having phone conversations, where you can’t here the other side of the line or her working through things with her music producer.

I enjoyed the music and a lot of it is very good. But ultimately, this falls pretty flat. While I’m interested in the music of Grace Jones, I’m much more captivated by the person and had hoped that this would bring me closer to knowing her.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Grace Jones: Slave to the Rhythm, Whiteny and David Bowie: The Last Five Years.

TV Review: Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath (2016- )

Original Run: November 29th, 2016 – current
Created by: Leah Remini, Eli Holzman, Aaron Saidman, Alex Weresow
Music by: various
Cast: Leah Remini, Mike Rinder

No Seriously Productions, The Intellectual Property Corporation, A&E, 36 Episodes (so far), 43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I never really had any intention of watching this but I had a few friends always bring it up to me, so I checked it out. To be frank, I don’t give a shit about religion, regardless of what the belief system is.

Anyway, I also know that just about every documentary has an agenda and that the truth is usually somewhere outside of the idea being pushed.

However, this is pretty compelling and it lets people tell their own stories in their own words. Sure, Leah Remini has an ax to grind and she sometimes steers the conversation but her ax seems like it is genuine and the more I learn about Scientology, the more I can understand why she feels that getting all of this out in the open is so important. And honestly, I support her in that.

When you start watching this show, it is hard to turn away. And as more is revealed through the testimonials of former Scientologists, the more interesting the show gets because there are so many layers to the bizarre beliefs and culture of Scientology. And really, it definitely comes across as a legitimate cult in how it tries to control and police its members.

The show can get repetitive after awhile but each episode features a new person with a new story. The thing is, everyone’s account of the way this church is run all lines up from episode to episode and if this was just a bunch of people trying to attack the church in ways that weren’t honest, I think it’d become pretty apparent. But everyone seems to consistently hit the same points.

I think this show is compelling in how it gives you an real insider’s view into the Church of Scientology but it also grabs you and holds on because so much of this seems so unbelievable. That is, until you start hearing similar stories from so many former Scientologists.

In the end, I believe Leah Remini and the people featured on the show. There’s just too much consistency from story to story for this to be a dishonest, bitter condemnation of Scientology.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on Scientology.

Documentary Review: Becoming Bond (2017)

Release Date: March 11th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: Josh Greenbaum
Written by: Josh Greenbaum
Music by: John Piscitello
Cast: George Lazenby, Josh Lawson, Kassandra Clementi, Jane Seymour, Jeff Garlin, Jake Johnson, Dana Carvey

Delirio Films, Hulu, 95 Minutes

Review:

Well, this was an incredibly fun documentary.

What I liked most about this was it was just George Lazenby telling his story, in his own words with comedic dramatization used to paint the picture. I didn’t expect to be so amused by this but I was.

I think the thing that made the dramatizations so good is that they sneaked some well-known actors into the mix. We got Jane Seymour and Jake Johnson but then we also got the comedic flourish of Jeff Garlin and Dana Carvey, who did a solid Johnny Carson impersonation.

For those that don’t know, George Lazenby played James Bond in one movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Oddly enough, that is my favorite Bond movie of all-time, so seeing this documentary about the one-off Bond and some of the behind the scenes stuff of that movie, was really cool to watch. Especially, since that film came out in a time when behind the scenes stuff didn’t really exist.

Also, a lot of the stuff about Lazenby is discussed in the documentary Everything Or Nothing but that film covers the entire James Bond franchise and Lazenby’s stint was a very small piece of the larger pie. So having a whole documentary dedicated to Lazenby and the controversy surrounding his time as Bond was pretty cool.

In the end, this made me appreciate Lazenby, the man. He definitely marched to the beat of his own drum and despite the issues that the franchise had because of him, it’s hard not to respect him. Plus, he is still the star of one of the greatest Bond films ever made.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about the James Bond franchise but most notably, Everything Or Nothing.

Documentary Review: Namath (2012)

Also known as: Namath: From Beaver Falls to Broadway (complete title)
Release Date: January 28th, 2012
Written by: Ousie Shapiro
Music by: David Robidoux
Cast: Joe Namath, Liev Schreiber (narrator)

NFL Films, HBO, 86 Minutes

Review:

Joe Namath played before my time but growing up, he was always a former NFL great that older generations always told me about. He had a mystique about him and was a real legend on and off the field.

Once ESPN Classic came into existence and I was really into watching NFL Films productions in my teen years, I really got to see and understand why people loved him. And frankly, I loved him too. He had style and a panache that was unparalleled for the time. In high school, I owned a Namath throwback jersey.

Joe Namath also had that moment where he predicted and guaranteed a Superbowl win when his New York Jets were 17 point underdogs to the Baltimore Colts. But he won and that prediction became as legendary as Babe Ruth pointing to the stands to call his most famous homerun.

In the years since, Joe Namath has had alcohol problems that were made pretty apparent to the public. He’s since gotten help and is living a much better, booze free life but the partying playboy went through rough patches.

This documentary was a really entertaining watch for fans of the game and the man. It doesn’t shy away from Namath’s demons and Joe even goes into depth talking about them and why they existed in the first place. But the real focus of the documentary is on the man’s life, not just his personal faults.

I thought that this was fair and it let Namath clear the air and genuinely express his remorse for certain actions. It also showed how cool Suzy Kolber is in how she handled the situation that involved her because she knew Joe was in a really bad place, at the time.

I love old school football. This documentary just cemented that further and it made me really respect Joe Namath more so than I did already.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other documetnaries about the NFL, most notably ESPN 30 For 30 films and HBO documentaries.