Documentary Review: Walt & El Grupo (2008)

Release Date: April 26th, 2008 (San Francisco International Film Festival)
Directed by: Theodore Thomas
Written by: Theodore Thomas
Music by: James Stemple
Cast: Walt Disney (archive footage), various

Theodore Thomas Productions, Walt Disney Studios,106 Minutes

Review:

Walt & El Grupo is the story of Walt Disney’s 1941 US government sponsored trip to Latin America with a group of other artists in an attempt to study the culture in an effort to create two of Disney’s World War II era animated features: Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.

Considering that I really like those two movies, quite a bit, it was cool finally seeing the story behind their creation.

For those that don’t know, those movies were made to get Americans interested in traveling to the beautiful, exotic nations south of us. The films also gave us one of my favorite Disney animated characters, José Carioca! Granted, I also like Panchito Pistoles but José takes the cake for me.

Walt Disney was always a fascinating figure to me, so learning the reasons behind why he did this was pretty neat. It was also nice learning about who went with him and what they all were looking for and how they created the iconic material that they did from this Latin American adventure.

It was really cool seeing what the culture was like in Latin America in the early 1940s and kind of comparing that to where those places are at now. I like that this documentary showed these places in the modern era, in an effort to illustrate their changes and growth. Granted, that wasn’t the bulk of the story here.

The most important thing about this documentary is that it simply helps you understand Walt’s creative process, his business mind and his passion.

Rating: 7/10

Documentary Review: What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (2018)

Also known as: What We Left Behind: Star Trek DS9 (shortened title)
Release Date: October 12th, 2018 (Los Angeles special screening)
Directed by: Ira Steven Behr, David Zappone
Music by: Kevin Kiner, Dennis McCarthy
Cast: Max Grodenchik, Andrew Robinson, Armin Shimerman, Nana Visitor, Colm Meaney, Jeffrey Combs, Aron Eisenberg, Rene Auberjonois, Ira Steven Behr, Alexander Siddig, Casey Biggs, Rick Berman, Terry Farrell, Jonathan West, David Carson, Marc Bernardin, Penny Johnson Jerald, Avery Brooks, Rene Echevarria, Ronald D. Moore, Michael Okuda, Chase Masterson, Louis Race, Michael Dorn, Wallace Shawn, Marc Alaimo, Michael Westmore, John Putman, James Darren, Bill Mumy, Cirroc Lofton, Nicole de Boer

Le Big Boss Productions, Tuxedo Productions, 455 Films, 116 Minutes

Review:

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was my favorite Star Trek show of the bunch. However, my relationship with it didn’t start out well. In fact, I really disliked it early on, quit halfway into the first season and didn’t return until years later, after it was off the air and I could stream it on Netflix.

Over the years, I’d hear from really hardcore Trekkies that it was the best show and that once it found its footing, its larger story and its purpose, it became one of the best shows in sci-fi television history.

After giving it a second chance, I discovered this to be true and the show, at least for me, lived up to that hype and may have even exceeded it.

This documentary was crowdsourced and probably long overdue. I’m glad that it got made when it did because a few key people who were involved in it have passed away in the few years since.

This was directed and put together by Ira Steven Behr, who was the DS9 showrunner. But he clearly has a ton of passion for this show, all the people he worked with on it and the large fanbase that has continued to grow over time.

What We Left Behind features interviews with just about every key person that was involved in the show and it was nice seeing how much they loved their work and each other, as well as the fans. Sadly, many fanbases have been wrecked in recent years, Star Trek, as a whole, being one of them. However, for whatever reason, DS9 seems to be less effected by that.

Overall, this was a really cool documentary and it was fun to watch. If you loved Deep Space Nine, you really should check this out. Plus, I think it is currently free on Prime.

Rating: 7.25/10

Documentary Review: Vice Versa: Chyna (2021)

Release Date: June 17th, 2021
Directed by: Marah Strauch, Erik Angra (segment director)
Written by: Marah Strauch
Music by: Ceiri Torjussen
Cast: Chyna, Mick Foley, Triple H, Kevin Nash, Drew Pinsky, various

Rock Skull, Rock Salt Releasing, Citizen Skull Productions, Vice, 90 Minutes

Review:

I’m not a big fan of Vice, overall. However, I really like Dark Side of the Ring quite a lot. I attribute that more to the showrunners and not the network, itself.

However, since they recently put out a documentary on Chyna, I figured I’d give it a watch, as their professional wrestling related content, thus far, has been exceptional.

While this didn’t captivate me on the same level of Dark Side of the Ring, it still pulled me in and held my attention. I think a lot of that has to do with Chyna’s story, though, as she lived an interesting but very sad and fucked up life. And I don’t say that lightly or to be disrespectful, it just is what it is and she was a nice person that deserved much more from life than her demons winning in the end.

This goes deep into her backstory before she entered the world of professional wrestling and it was cool finally getting to know her from that perspective.

Beyond that, it discusses her career and how it truly impacted the wrestling business. There are a lot of talking head interviews with several of her former co-workers and friends, as well as those she was most intimate with.

After the wrestling part of her life, things got really dark and I appreciate that this doesn’t gloss over it or try to play it down. This puts it all out there but at the same time, it lets Chyna talk about it and reveal why she did certain things and how having the rug pulled out from under her, professionally and romantically, really destroyed her spirit.

This starts to show you Chyna, in Japan as a teacher, where she started to get her life together and turn things around. However, after returning to the United States, probably too early, she picked up bad habits again and well, the rest is sadly history.

I always liked Chyna but I never felt like she had the right avenue to tell her story until now. Frankly, I like her even more and this is truly a heartbreaking and tragic story and it sucks that she couldn’t overcome the issues that plagued her for so long.

So this is a pretty depressing documentary but I think it’s also good in that it let her speak about this stuff and it also shows people who she was beyond the WWE’s glamor and glitz.

Rating: 7.25/10

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

Documentary Review: Val (2021)

Release Date: July 7th, 2021 (Cannes)
Directed by: Ting Poo, Leo Scott
Written by: Val Kilmer
Music by: Garth Stevenson
Cast: Val Kilmer, Jack Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Mercedes Kilmer, various

Cartel Film Production, Boardwalk Pictures, IAC Films, A24, Amazon Studios, 109 Minutes

Review:

I have always liked Val Kilmer. As a kid, he was the cool, smart guy I wanted to be in Real Genius. Then he was the cool badass in Top Gun. After that, he was the coolest of all his characters in Willow. Beyond that, I loved him in just about everything.

Over the years, his roles have been fewer and fewer and not too long ago, he was diagnosed with throat cancer, which he beat, but chemotherapy and two tracheotomies had a very adverse effect on his speaking voice.

Kilmer had a reputation of being difficult to work with and a perfectionist. While I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to that and Kilmer has admitted to being difficult, at times, these things are usually overblown in the media and people tend to believe the narrative creating something more akin to legend than reality.

Unbeknownst to most, Kilmer has filmed his life since before he started acting. He has thousands of hours of footage and over the last decade, he started having everything backed up digitally, to preserve it, as best he could. During that process, it was decided that maybe he should put it all together in a way that would allow him to tell his own story.

Since Val has a hard time speaking, he wrote the narration for the film but had his son Jack read it. I thought that this worked quite well and it allowed Val’s words to flow from the mouth of someone close to his heart and his legacy.

Overall, this was a damn good story and I’m glad that Kilmer was able to work on something in spite of his condition and his physical limitations. This was a really personal and emotional story that allowed Kilmer to address his critics, shed light on things from his past and showcase his life from his point-of-view.

With that, there’s obviously going to be a bit of bias in the film but I think that Kilmer is pretty open about his feelings, his thoughts, his motivations and revealing the lessons he’s learned throughout his pretty interesting life.

Most importantly, this was engaging and entertaining. Beyond that, it was a very human story and while some may see Kilmer now and feel like his best days are behind him, I think the man has a pretty bright future ahead of him due to how he’s adapted well to his adversity and because of the love of those around him.

Rating: 8/10

TV Review: Q: Into the Storm (2021)

Original Run: March 21st, 2021 – April 4th, 2021
Created by: Adam McKay, Todd Schulman, Nancy Abraham, Lisa Heller, Cullen Hoback, Alina Solodnikova, Tina Nguyen
Directed by: Cullen Hoback
Cast: various

HBO Documentary Films, Hyperobject Industries, Hyrax Films, 6 Episodes, 57-60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I have HBO Max but I didn’t even know this was out there until Joe Rogan was talking to Zuby about it on his podcast. Granted, I also didn’t know what the hell Q was until a few months before the 2020 presidential election when you couldn’t escape mention of it on Twitter, a platform I still use because apparently I’m into torture and pig vomit limited to 280 characters.

Because of all the hoopla regarding Q, especially over the last twelve months, I figured I should watch this to learn more about what it is, why it is, how it is and the people that are connected to it. It’s become this strange, cultish, conspiratorial phenomenon and whether you agree with any of it or not, it’s still pretty fucking fascinating.

Being that this was put out by HBO, I was skeptical about it, as I wasn’t sure how objective and unbiased it would be. And frankly, that’s a real issue that I have with most documentaries these days that deal with political and/or social issues.

I ended up seeing this as pretty objective, though. It let all sides of the story that participated, clearly give their points of view on QAnon and everything surrounding 8Chan and its effect on the world of social media, American politics and the minds of those caught within its orbit.

That being said, this did feel more like a documentary about 8Chan than Q and QAnon. Sure, this does try to solve the mystery about who Q is and even though it does try to point to someone in the documentary, the viewer is still allowed to take the evidence presented and draw their own ideas and theories. But, at the same time, does it even really matter who it is?

All in all, I thought this was well-made, well-edited, well-paced after the first two episodes and it was hard to turn off and not watch in a single sitting. In a lot of ways, I guess this became my Tiger King for this year.

In the end, I don’t think this came close to solving this mystery but it was an entertaining journey and pretty damn informative, overall.

Rating: 7.5/10

Documentary Review: Console Wars (2020)

Release Date: September 23rd, 2020
Directed by: Jonah Tulis, Blake J. Harris
Based on: Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation by Blake J. Harris
Music by: Jeff Beal
Cast: various

Circle of Confusion, CBS Television Studios, Legendary Television, Paramount+, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Whenever you’re at war, you always hit the guy in the mouth as hard as you can. If you can’t hit him hard, you might as well not even fight. That’s the attitude in real war and it’s the attitude in business. You’ve gotta be prepared to take on the competition and win.” – Paul Rioux

When I was a kid in the early ’90s, I was all about Sega Genesis. Sure, I liked some of the games on Super Nintendo when it came out but Genesis was just my cup of tea from the speed, the graphics, the sound and the game selection.

However, I was also growing up and by middle school age, I wasn’t into the kiddie games.

This documentary tells the story of how Sega emerged as a video game powerhouse in the United States in a time when Nintendo owned the vast majority of the market share. Sega didn’t care, though, and they went all in, creating a system that was much more impressive than the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System and honestly, better than Nintendo’s rebuttal, which was the Super Nintendo.

There’s no hate here, though. I truly loved both systems but Genesis had the edge for me.

Anyway, this was well put together, well researched and it features interviews with the majority of the key players in this story.

Rivalries in business are great and for preteen me, this was the greatest business rivalry I could ever care about. Video games were a huge part of my life.

So seeing all these key people talk about this rivalry now is pretty f’n cool. There’s so much I didn’t know about the behind the scenes stuff because I was a kid and all I cared about was being entertained by the games I loved.

Well, I was also pretty thoroughly entertained by this documentary.

Rating: 7/10

TV Review: 100 Years of Horror (1996-1997)

Original Run: 1996 – 1997
Created by: Ted Newsom, Dante J. Pugliese
Directed by: Ted Newsom
Written by: Ted Newson, Jeff Forrester (uncredited)
Cast: Christopher Lee (presenter), Roger Corman, Hugh Hefner, Fred Olen Ray, Richard Denning, Bela Lugosi Jr., Hazel Court, Robert Wise, Beverly Garland, Gloria Talbott, Sara Karloff, Dick Miller, Caroline Munro, John Agar, Ralph Bellamy, John Carpenter, Richard Matheson, Linnea Quigley, various

Multicom Entertainment Group, 26 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’m glad that this documentary television series was made when it was, in the mid-’90s, as it allowed for the children of multiple horror icons to be involved and to tell stories about their fathers, their careers and their personal lives outside of the public eye.

Additionally, I love that this was able to include a lot of the filmmakers, writers and actors that were involved in a lot of classic horror films. Had this been made today, a lot of these people wouldn’t have been able to tell their stories in their own words, as they’re no longer with us.

Also, I love that Christopher Lee was the presenter of this series, as there wasn’t a more perfect choice available.

This series features 26 episodes, roughly 22 minutes apiece. Each episode tackles a different subject, be it a type of monster or a legendary horror actor. Plus, each episode covers a lot of ground for its running time, jumping through history and trying to show the audience everything it possibly can on the subject.

There really isn’t a dull episode, as there are so many different things that can be covered. There could’ve been more episodes and there still would’ve more topics to explore.

I like that this just dives right in and delivers so much. In fact, every episode showed me something I wasn’t aware of and helped me expand my list of old school horror movies that I still have left to watch and review.

All in all, this was pretty great and classic horror fans will probably find themselves lost in each episode, traveling through time and seeing things they still haven’t seen before.

Rating: 7.5/10