TV Review: The Keepers (2017)

Original Run: May 19th, 2017
Created by: Ryan White
Directed by: Ryan White
Based on: Murder of Catherine Cesnik
Cast: various

Film 45, Tripod Media, Netflix, 7 Episodes, 60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This Netflix true crime documentary featured an incredibly interesting story about the mysterious and unsolved murder of a nun more than fifty years-ago and how it seems as if it is associated with the sexual abuse committed by a priest at a high school.

Sadly, that priest is dead and can’t suffer for the things he did to several children. However, this documentary does serve as an avenue for these victims to speak about what happened to them and how it may very well relate to the murder of the young nun, who many of the female victims saw as their one true confidant in the school.

This documentary series is seven episodes long and while each is chock full of details, this did seem like it was dragged out much further than it needed to be, especially since the case is still unsolved, even after all the information that is shared in these seven hours.

Like many of the other Netflix true crime miniseries, though, this is well-produced and well-presented. 

This is a tragic and honestly, infuriating story. Hopefully, this sheds enough light onto the case that it can actually be solved some day. As is the nature of these things, though, the more time passes, the less likely that seems possible.

Rating: 7/10

TV Review: The Staircase (2004-2018)

Original Run: October 7th, 2004 – June 8th, 2018
Created by: Jean-Xavier de Lestrade
Directed by: Jean-Xavier de Lestrade
Written by: Jean-Xavier de Lestrade
Cast: Michael Peterson, various

Canal+, Netflix, 13 Episodes, 44-55 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I heard people rave about this documentary series a few years back. Since I’ve recently been binging the shit out of Netflix true crime documentaries, I figured that I should finally give this one a watch.

Well, I was really underwhelmed by it and I think it’s just another case of hype blowing something up to an unrealistic level.

I will say that the story here is damn compelling and there are a lot of holes in the investigation or so it would appear, based on how this documentary reveals the details.

However, it’s the presentation of this series that made it somewhat of a bore to get through.

This follows the investigation and spends a lot of time in the court room during the trials. However, most of the show is shot and presented reality TV style, following around all the members of the family and legal team, as they constantly pontificate on that day’s activities and developments. It’s just not that interesting when you realize that all of the accused killer’s kids (minus one) are going to believe his innocence no matter what.

“Not my dad! There’s no way he could do that! I know my dad!”

“Did you know he had gay sex with male prostitutes?”

“What? I didn’t know my dad was gay! But he could never kill my mom! I know my dad!”

I also feel like this documentary was obviously biased towards the family and towards the sentiment that author-possibly-turned-killer, Michael Peterson, was innocent. Looking into that after watching this for myself, there are a lot of other people that feel like this was a biased documentary and that it omitted things that didn’t support its narrative.

In the end, I was initially captivated by the story but from a production standpoint, this wasn’t as polished and well-paced as the more recent Netflix true crime documentaries. I also don’t feel confident in the details provided by this documentary.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Basquiat (1996)

Also known as: Build A Fort, Set It On Fire (alternative title)
Release Date: August 9th, 1996
Directed by: Julian Schnabel
Written by: Julian Schnabel, John Bowe, Michael Holman, Lech Majewski
Music by: John Cale, Julian Schnabel
Cast: Jeffrey Wright, David Bowie, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Benicio del Toro, Claire Forlani, Michael Wincott, Parker Posey, Courtney Love, Elina Lowensohn, Paul Bartel, Tatum O’Neal, Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe, Sam Rockwell, Michael Badalucco, Joseph R. Gannascoli, Vincent Laresca, Vincent Gallo (uncredited)

Eleventh Street Production, Jon Kilik, Miramax, 107 Minutes

Review:

“What is it about art anyway that we give it so much importance? Artists are respected by the poor because what they do is an honest way to get out of the slum using one’s sheer self as the medium. The money earned, proof, pure and simple, of the value of that individual, the artist. The picture a mother’s son does in jail hangs on her wall as proof that beauty is possible even in the most wretched. And this is a much different idea than fancier notion that art is a scam and a ripoff. But you can never explain to someone who uses God’s gift to enslave, that you have used God’s gift to be free.” – Rene Ricard

Everyone has a favorite movie or few. This is one of mine and honestly, I’ve put off reviewing it because I’ve found it difficult to put into words what I love about it so much. It’s just more of a feeling and a vibe that it gives off, and as an artist myself, I felt deeply connected with the film the first time that I saw it.

While the picture is a biopic about Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist that rose to prominence and died way too young, it is also an examination of art itself and the artist’s place in the world. It’s a real critique on the art world, especially in the opulent ’80s and the New York City scene. What makes this even more interesting, though, is that this was made by people who knew Basquiat and who were part of this community at the time that he rose up and took the art world by storm.

Honestly, this is probably the most intimate look inside that world and of that specific era that outsiders have ever gotten. It’s an incredibly intriguing place. It’s also made that much more personal by the love of the filmmakers and the passion they put into this motion picture.

This passion goes beyond director Julian Schnabel and the writers, though, as it also comes out through the performances of the actors. And man, this is a movie with an incredible cast from top-to-bottom. For an indie picture about an artist that was here and gone so quickly, the production attracted so many worthwhile actors.

The two that standout the most, however, are Jeffrey Wright as Basquiat and David Bowie as Andy Warhol. These two men gave real life to these iconic figures and their chemistry together was so good that you truly believed in the real life bond between Basquiat and Warhol, a bond everyone else seemed jealous about.

I also loved the scene with Christopher Walken, as a journalist asking Jean-Michel some pretty pointed questions. But this scene kind of shows you where Basquiat is in life, at this point, as everything has moved so fast. Plus, the film shows sections of his life and there isn’t any sort of traditional progression of time, which I liked. Things happen in a dreamlike blur but that’s often times how life goes and you have these random moments that sort of ground you and put things into perspective.

There isn’t a weak performance in the whole film and it features incredible moments between Wright, a newcomer at the time, and well-established actors like Dennis Hopper, Willem Dafoe, Gary Oldman, Parker Posey, Michael Wincott, Benicio del Toro and so many others.

Additionally, the music in the film is just as important as the art and it truly sets the tone in every scene and it’s actually my favorite soundtrack that’s ever been assembled.

By the time you get to the end, the film tries to give you some hope and through a story Jean-Michel tells to his friend, Benny, you fully understand what his place in the world was and still is. Sadly, the writing was on the wall for how Basquiat’s story would end but even with his life cut incredibly short, he created something that would live on forever.

Rating: 10/10

TV Review: Don’t Fuck With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (2019)

Original Run: December 18th, 2019
Created by: Dimitri Doganis, Adam Hawkins
Directed by: Mark Lewis
Written by: Mark Lewis
Music by: Blue Spill
Cast: various

Raw TV, Netflix, 3 Episodes, 60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I knew vaguely about this story from headlines that I’d see pop-up on social media from time-to-time. However, I never knew all the details and how big this investigation by regular people online had grown in an effort to catch this sick, sadistic, narcissistic fuck.

Overall, this was a compelling documentary miniseries and one of the best that I’ve seen from Netflix. Weirdly, I’m starting to get addicted to these things, where they weren’t my cup of tea before. Maybe that has something to do with getting older or maybe it’s just because Netflix creates some high quality, really well produced material in this regard.

Initially, the story starts out with a group of people on Facebook trying to discover who is behind a video that features the murder of a cat. Things escalate to the point where the cat killer challenges these people to find him, as he’s obsessed with the attention its getting him. He then kills more cats and hints that he’s going to turn to people next. Eventually he lures in a guy for sex but murders him on camera, as well.

All the while, the authorities are of no help and don’t really believe the warnings of the people from the Facebook group. Ultimately, once a human is killed, the real authorities get involved and take all the previous evidence more seriously.

By the end of the story, the scumbag is caught and brought to justice.

This was presented in a compelling way and all of the key talking head interviews were pretty damn stellar, as they were able to recall all the details and help paint a picture of who this killer was and what they feel were his motivations.

In the end, this is an incredibly disturbing story that is hard to get through, at points, due to the nature of the crimes and the details, but it does have a happy ending considering that such an evil piece of shit is off the streets.

Rating: 8/10

TV Review: Making A Murderer (2015-2018)

Original Run: December 8th, 2015 – October 19th, 2018
Created by: Laura Ricciardi, Moira Demos, Lisa Nishimura, Adam Del Deo
Directed by: Laura Ricciardi, Moira Demos
Written by: Laura Ricciardi, Moira Demos
Music by: Kevin Kiner, Jared Forman, Dean Kiner
Cast: Steven Avery, Brendan Dassey, Kathleen Zellner, various

Synthesis Films, Netflix, 20 Episodes, 47-77 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Being that I’ve been binging the shit out of Netflix crime shows, I figured that I’d finally delve into the longest one, which is also probably responsible for Netflix leaning so hard into this type of content.

Making A Murderer is the story of Steven Avery, a man who was released from prison after eighteen years. He was falsely sent to prison for a rape he didn’t commit. However, not too long after his release, he was arrested once again for the murder of a young photographer.

The thing is, the system targeted Avery and had no interest in any of the other people who were obviously suspects, as well. And as more and more details are revealed, it appears that Avery is possibly innocent of this crime, as well, and that the police and the legal system are trying to lock him back up, as he was on the verge of successfully suing them for his previous false imprisonment.

As twisted as that all sounds, there are so many other layers to the story that come to light with each episode. There is also Avery’s nephew, Brendan Dassey, who was possibly duped into giving the police a false confession. With that, Dassey has also been sitting in jail from the first time that he ever talked to police.

The first season of the show goes through the details of the case and the investigation with a fine tooth comb. However, after it aired, it was criticized for leaving out key elements of the story.

The second season addresses these criticisms and it switches gears, focusing more on the lawyers trying to free both Avery and Dassey from imprisonment.

While I liked the second season and seeing the sloppy police investigation being torn to shreds, I think the show was strongest during the first season. It’s honestly two very different shows and also, despite season two being focused on freeing these two men, things are still left pretty unresolved. Because of that, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was eventually a third season if any significant changes were to occur.

I binged the hell out of this and blasted through it in a few days. I wanted to absorb it all in with the details being fresh in my mind. I think that the scariest takeaway from this story, is how easy it is for the system to try and make an example out of someone that they’ve targeted over their own biases. The level of narcissism and ego that the prosecutors and police officers had was astounding.

Rating: 8.5/10

Documentary Review: We Steal Secrets: The Story Of Wikileaks (2013)

Release Date: January 21st, 2013 (Sundance)
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Written by: Alex Gibney
Music by: Will Bates
Cast: Julian Assange, Heather Brooke, various

Jigsaw Productions, Global Produce, Focus World, Universal Pictures, 130 Minutes

Review:

“You talk of times of peace for all, and then prepare for war.” – Julian Assange

This has been in my queue for awhile but I finally got around to seeing it. Granted, I know the story of Julian Assange and Wikileaks rather well. I spent extensive time writing about it all a decade ago.

Overall, this is a fairly decent documentary but it also didn’t have nearly the amount of time it needed to dive as deeply as it probably needed to. I also can’t say that it’s completely accurate, as there are some biases thrown in whether that was the intent of the filmmaker or because of certain people in this trying to steer the ship in their own way.

However, this is still a good primer and starting point for those who might not know the story of Assange and his “infamous” website without the always present mainstream media slant.

Politics aside, this does present a good defense for Assange. He wasn’t the person that initially leaked all of this information, he just provided the platform for those who wanted to expose some dark secrets.

In the end, if this stuff interests you, this is probably worth a look. However, as with all things touched by political motives, it’s still best to not take all of this at face value. Do your own research and come to your own conclusions.

Rating: 7/10

TV Review: The Ripper (2020)

Original Run: December 16th, 2020
Created by: Netflix
Directed by: Jesse Vile, Ellena Wood
Cast: various

Netflix, 4 Episodes, 60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’ve been going through a weird phase lately where I’ve been binge watching Netflix crime docu-series. This generally isn’t my genre but I like the way that Netflix tells these stories. They’ve developed their own style and it’s both effective and done in a way that keeps you glued to the screen.

This one is about a serial killer that dopey, idiot detectives just assumed was a Jack The Ripper copycat and thus, named him The Ripper. However, many of the victims were later discovered to not be prostitutes and the theories the authorities had were thrown out the window, once it was clear that they were dead wrong and had also been jumping to conclusions based off of their own biases.

Beyond that, this also covers the gender-focused fascism that this part of the UK employed to keep women “safe” based off of completely false assumptions.

There were a lot of interesting layers to this whole story and I thought that the sections of this documentary were well organized and generally well presented. I was also surprised that they covered this pretty thoroughly in just four episodes.

While this isn’t my favorite of these type of Netflix shows, it’s still damn engaging and was a good way to spend four hours in an afternoon sick in bed.

Rating: 7/10

Documentary Review: Closed for Storm (2020)

Also known as: Closed for Storm – The Story of Six Flags New Orleans (complete title)
Release Date: November 7th, 2020 (New Orleans Film Festival)
Directed by: Jake Williams
Written by: Jake Williams
Music by: Matthew Jordan Leeds
Cast: Jake Williams (narrator), various

Bright Sun Films, 78 Minutes, 57 Minutes (festival cut)

Review:

Closed for Storm tells the story of a once great theme park on the edge of New Orleans. It was unfortunately wrecked hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. While it started out as Jazzland in 2000, it was bought by Six Flags and renamed Six Flags New Orleans in 2003.

Six Flags had big plans for the park but once Hurricane Katrina hit the area, priorities in New Orleans, in general, changed.

Additionally, the park was flooded and had incredible damage. Over time, it was looted and vandalized and Six Flags decided to cut their losses. Today, it just sits there, vacant.

This documentary interviews people that were involved with the theme park, those who were regular visitors and those who live in the surrounding community, who were promised a lot from the development of the park but now have an eyesore in their backyards that has had the opposite effect of what was promised to them.

This is also a sad story about the death of a piece of Americana. It reminded me a lot of the recent documentary I watched called Jasper Mall, which told the story of a once busy and successful shopping mall that has, in recent years, just barely been able to stay afloat.

Also, growing up in South Florida, I lived through a similar situation when Hurricane Andrew put the nail in the coffin for Six Flags Atlantis, just north of Miami. It was a place I loved to go to and tried to coerce my dad into taking me a few times per year.

I enjoyed this documentary quite a bit and it does leave you with some hope regarding the defunct park. People keep coming up with plans for the site and it’s probably only a matter of time before a trigger is pulled. Although, it probably won’t become another theme park. Just like Six Flags Atlantis was steamrolled and turned into a shopping center.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Schindler’s List (1993)

Release Date: November 30th, 1993 (Washington DC premiere)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Steven Zaillian
Based on: Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Embeth Davidtz

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 195 Minutes

Review:

“It’s Hebrew, it’s from the Talmud. It says, “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”” – Itzhak Stern

Schindler’s List is nearly thirty years-old but I hadn’t seen the movie until now. I knew the story of Schindler but I also had assumptions about this movie that I found out weren’t entirely true after having finally watched it.

I expected this to be immensely depressing and also very, very long. The combination of those two things is why I could never get myself to sit down and watch it.

Additionally, based off of the footage I had seen over the last few decades, I assumed this was going to focus on the actual horrors of the Holocaust primarily and that the story would be pretty minimal. I was glad to learn that this has a very layered and deep story, more so than I could have anticipated.

Sure, I assumed it would be superbly acted and it most definitely is. Liam Neeson is incredible, as are Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes and Embeth Davidtz. Yet I was still blown away and surprised by how good their performances were and I was much more moved by that than the specific horrors that happen in the movie. It’s those performances that kept the horrors and tragedy grounded and genuine.

I thought that this was going to be more docu-drama than a narrative driven, performance driven motion picture.

This may also be Steven Spielberg’s best work behind the camera, as some of the shots aren’t just incredible but they’re almost otherworldly. I love that he did this in black and white, which makes it kind of timeless, but also makes it tonally darker.

I really enjoyed John Williams’ beautiful score and it is certainly one of the greatest things he has done in his long career, as a composer who has probably made more memorable movie themes than any other.

The subject matter, here, is really hard to digest. However, this is a story that should be known by everyone. We can’t forget these atrocities because we’re doomed to repeat them in the future, as insane and implausible as that may sound.

After watching this and Grave of the Fireflies just a few days apart, I really need something uplifting because that was a lot of dark human shit that I had to experience in a short span.

Rating: 10/10

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