Documentary Review: Something Ventured (2011)

Release Date: April 24th, 2011 (San Francisco International Film Festival)
Directed by: Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine
Music by: Laura Karpman
Cast: various

Geller/Goldfine Productions, Miralan Productions, 84 Minutes

Review:

I saw this way back when it came out but I remembered it pretty fondly, so I decided to give it another watch when I saw it was free with Prime. Also, I didn’t remember much about it other than I had liked it about a decade ago.

So this goes through the early days of venture capitalism and since that’s something I’m a fan of, I found this pretty interesting. Plus, all these old school O.G. venture capitalists all seemed like pretty good guys and they came off as quite likable.

What’s most interesting about this is that it gives some details on the creation of a lot of iconic companies. It also shows many of these men talk about their failures and missed opportunities.

Ultimately, I liked that everyone sort of wore everything on their sleeve and weren’t afraid of talking about the good and the bad. There are lessons to be learned from these personalities and their trial and error.

This is a fairly short and quick watch and while it is primarily just talking head interviews, everything is superbly organized and presented while the multiple narratives and subjects flow well.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on business.

Documentary Review: Grey Gardens (1975)

Release Date: September 27th, 1975 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer
Cast: Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale, Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale 

Portrait Films, 95 Minutes

Review:

“But you see in dealing with me, the relatives didn’t know that they were dealing with a staunch character and I tell you if there’s anything worse than dealing with a staunch woman… S-T-A-U-N-C-H. There’s nothing worse, I’m telling you. They don’t weaken, no matter what.” – Little Edie

Grey Gardens is very much a product of its time but it was a pretty highly regarded documentary for its day.

While I’ve known about it for years, I hadn’t watched it till now, as I figured it’d be a really depressing look into the lives of two women who went from the height of American society to living pretty much in squalor in their decrepit Long Island mansion, reflecting on their past days of glory.

The film, at its core, is an interesting character study into these two real women. There isn’t really a structure to the film and the directors just let the cameras roll, filming their day-to-day life like a reality television show. Although, more like the early days of reality television, before producers tried to manipulate their subjects into manufactured hostility to grab ratings.

That being said, this is still a sad picture but at the same time, the two women, even in their situation, are endearing and quite likable. But this also shows their naivety about the world that they live in. They’re the products of high society, no longer a part of it and they just don’t seem to have the same instincts as regular people in similar impoverished situations.

We also discover their strange but kind of innocent philosophies about life, love and family.

My only real complaint about the film is that it’s really slow. However, this complaint probably exists because I saw it nearly half a century after it was made and documentary filmmaking has evolved, greatly.

Regardless of that, it’s still interesting, stepping into these two women’s world for an hour and a half.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: its sequel and the film of the same name that is based on the women, starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.

Documentary Review: Class Action Park (2020)

Also known as: Action Park (Canada – alternative title)
Release Date: August 20th, 2020 (Florida Film Festival)
Directed by: Seth Porges, Chris Charles Scott III
Music by: The Holladay Brothers
Cast: John Hodgman (narrator), Chris Gethard, Alison Becker, various

Pinball Party Productions, HBO, 90 Minutes

Review:

I wanted to watch this when I first saw the trailer for it months back. However, it was an HBO Max exclusive and I couldn’t get that app on my Amazon Firestick. I’m glad the two parties got that shit sorted out because now I have the app and therefore, access to this cool documentary about a defunct and pretty dangerous theme park.

Action Park wasn’t just dangerous, though, it became a place of legend. So much so, I knew about it in Florida when I was a kid from the few friends that moved to my state from New Jersey or others who had made it up there on a family trip.

The park actually served as inspiration for the Johnny Knoxville starring Action Point, which was a box office bomb but still looked kind of entertaining. I haven’t seen it yet but I might watch it soon after seeing this documentary about the actual source material.

This documentary did a great job of building nostalgia for the park it featured. While I personally have no first-hand knowledge of Action Park, the passion and the memories of those interviewed really came through, amazingly.

This goes through the founding and design of the park and it’s slapped together rides, as well as the problems it had, the shortcuts the owner took and all the dark stories that hadn’t been as widely known until now.

It’s the type of place I’d never send my kids to but if I was a kid, you’d bet your ass I’d sneak off and check it out regardless of my parents’ orders.

This was an energetic and endearing documentary and it made me feel kind of left out, as I never got to experience it for myself. Although, I grew up in Florida, the land of theme parks, and I probably won out in the end.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the content on the YouTube channels Defunctland and Yesterworld, much of which has been featured here in Vids I Dig posts.

Documentary Review: Citizenfour (2014)

Release Date: October 10th, 2014 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Laura Poitras
Cast: Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, William Binney, Jacob Applebaum, Ewen MacAskill

HBO Films, Participant Media, Praxis Films, Radius-TWC, 113 Minutes

Review:

For those who don’t already know the story of Edward Snowden, this does a good job of laying out all the facts and events that led to the situation he finds himself in, today.

While millions of people want him to get a presidential pardon, which I agree with, I think it’s important for those who don’t really know his story to actually learn about it because so many seem to easily accept the “traitor” label that’s been applied to him by those in the former Obama Administration.

What’s best about this, is that it actually stars Snowden. The cameras follow him, as he traverses through the muck while trying to get all the secrets he’s discovered out there.

Additionally, this features those who helped Snowden leak his secrets.

For the most part, this was really good and it makes its point well.

There’s not much to say about the contents of the film, as people really should watch it play out for themselves.

It’s well presented and it at least gives Snowden a voice.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other films on cypherpunk culture, specifically on hacking and leaking. I’ve reviewed many, here.

Documentary Review: Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain (2018)

Also known as: Decentralized: The Story of Blockchain (working title)
Release Date: October 26th, 2018 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Alex Winter
Written by: Alex Winter
Music by: Bill Laswell
Cast: Rosario Dawson (narrator), Alex Winter (interviewer), various

SingularDTV, Futurism Studios, Breaker, 84 Minutes

Review:

After watching Alex Winter’s documentary Deep Web, I was left wanting more. He followed that one up a few years later with this, which covers similar topics but with the majority of its focus on blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.

What I liked most about this film is that it describes these complex things and ideas really damn well. It makes this somewhat palatable for the layman.

Also, this interviews several people who know what they’re talking about while also featuring comments from many of blockchain and crypto’s detractors along with some great rebuttals.

A big part of the documentary follows the story of Lauri Love, a British hacker and activist that was wanted by the United States for alleged activities as a member of the hacker collective Anonymous. His story is really damn interesting and the film does a solid job of telling it.

If you have an interest in this stuff and haven’t seen this documentary, you should probably check it out. Alex Winter does great work and presents these subjects well.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about cypherpunk stuff like blockchain, cryptocurrency, hacking, etc. Especially, those by Alex Winter.

Documentary Review: Spaceship Earth (2020)

Release Date: January 26th, 2020 (Sundance)
Directed by: Matt Wolf
Music by: Owen Pallett
Cast: various

Stacey Reiss Productions, Impact Partners, RadicalMedia, Neon, 113 Minutes

Review:

I was pretty stoked to see this documentary when the trailer came out but honestly, it was really disappointing.

This seemed like such a wasted opportunity to tell a great story about the people and all the shenanigans around Biosphere2, including the people behind the project, its genesis and how everything panned out.

This was a story that was a big part of my life around middle school age, as I had a science teacher that was obsessed with it and gave us constant updates while also having her curriculum kind of tie to the Biosphere2 experiment.

I actually had no idea how interesting the story actually was until seeing this and learning about the group and how they came together, a quarter of a century before being locked up together in the world’s first biodome.

Sadly, the documentary doesn’t seem to dig deep enough in its nearly two-hour running time. It just scratches the surface and gives you some insight. It even has the real people in the film giving their accounts of events. However, this really needed more meat and because of that, should have probably been expanded into a multipart series.

I left this feeling like I knew the story but the real details were glossed over and I didn’t get to feel like I really knew these people, as much as I should.

Still, this was interesting enough to justify its existence and it was a decent way to spend two hours but I know that there is a lot more to the story that we didn’t get and that left me unfulfilled and underwhelmed.

Rating: 6/10

Documentary Review: World of Darkness (2017)

Release Date: May 11th, 2017 (Germany)
Directed by: Giles Alderson
Written by: Kevin Lee
Cast: various

Figi Productions, Luckyday, 89 Minutes

Review:

After recently watching a good documentary on Dungeons & Dragons, I wanted to watch this, as it’s about a role-playing community I was more involved in.

In fact, I was involved in a relationship about twenty years ago that found itself wrapped up in this game’s orbit quite a bit. It was fun for the time and even though I wasn’t a die hard player or fan, I enjoyed those in the community I got to know and I really enjoyed the original PC game.

That being said, this is a good recount of the history of the White Wolf company and the fans who loved their products. It also goes into how White Wolf sort of fucked themselves and pissed off those loyal fans, essentially sabotaging future growth and brand loyalty.

I remember when all the shenanigans started and while I didn’t understand (or pay attention) to all the details back then, I do remember how pissed off a lot of people were.

This is an interesting documentary because the story of White Wolf is an interesting one. However, beyond that, this plays like many of the other documentaries about niche fandoms.

Also, it didn’t interview some of the company’s former die hards that felt betrayed. Sure, some people here were miffed by it and added their two cents but I felt like the issues were addressed and quickly brushed under the rug and dismissed, looking forward into the future and what the White Wolf IP rights holders hope will be a lucrative business once again.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about table top gaming, video games and specific fandoms.

Documentary Review: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

Release Date: March 25th, 2007 (Dallas International Film Festival)
Directed by: Seth Gordon
Written by: Seth Gordon
Music by: Craig Richey
Cast: Steve Wiebe, Billy Mitchell, Walter Day

Large Lab, Picturehouse, Dendy Cinemas, 79 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs. I play video games, which I think is a far superior addiction to any of those other ones.” – Adam Wood

Back when this came out in 2007, I was enthralled by it. In fact, I bought the DVD and watched it quite a bit, which is strange for me in that it’s a documentary.

However, this true story is just as good as a great work of fiction. Sometimes life is stranger than fiction or at least, more interesting than it.

In the case of Donkey Kong rivals Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, we were given something so human, endearing and intriguing that it rivaled the best films of its year of release. Strangely, it didn’t even get nominated by the Academy for Best Documentary.

I guess movies about middle-aged dudes playing retro video games isn’t as politically and socially starved for as movies about dolphins, rainforests and some old, hermit dude that spent his entire life crafting a violin out of garbage. No, this is actually more important than all of that as it shows the triumph of the human spirit and how even a regular Joe can overcome the odds and topple a giant and a system that’s working against him.

Steve Wiebe is a hero and you truly get a sense of that while watching this. On the flipside of that, Billy Mitchell is one hell of a villain and his personality and charisma rivals that of the greatest heel managers in professional wrestling history. At the same time, looking passed all of Mitchell’s shady shenanigans, you can’t not help but like the guy. He’s f’n charming and he’s doing his damnedest to protect his legacy, even if that means cheating and using his power and influence to great advantage.

This is just a fantastic story about a guy that is great at something, finally stepping up to get recognized for it, while the man who feels threatened by him, does everything he can to hold him down. Who will win? You have to watch this and find out.

The King of Kong is heartwarming and heartbreaking at different points. But most importantly, it is one of my favorite documentaries ever made.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other video game/gaming documentaries like Chasing Ghosts and Special When Lit.

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.