TV Review: McMillions (2020)

Original Run: February 3rd, 2020 – March 9th, 2020
Directed by: James Lee Hernandez, Brian Lazarte
Written by: James Lee Hernandez, Brian Lazarte
Music by: Pinar Toprak
Cast: various

FunMeter, Unrealistic Ideas, HBO, 6 Episodes, 60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

As a McDonald’s shareholder, a loyal customer for decades and a massive fan of the Monopoly game, this was a story that absolutely intrigued me. So seeing that HBO made a documentary series telling the story of how the McDonald’s Monopoly game was rigged was a must watch for me.

My only real gripe about this is that I never felt like the scheme was all that clear. I understood how they found people to be “winners” of the top tier game pieces (and it was fantastic hearing their stories) but I never clearly understood why the criminals behind the scheme did it in the first place.

Selling these lucrative prizes at a small fraction of what their actual value was, was kind of baffling. I feel like there had to have been a much better way for them to exploit the system and in the end, they got caught, anyway.

Also, I had always assumed that McDonald’s was involved in the shenanigans because the actual story and all the facts weren’t something I delved into before this. I had just always assumed that by giving the pieces to “friends and family members” meant that some McDonald’s exec was just doing that for personal or corporate favors.

This was interesting as hell though and I watched all six episodes in one sitting.

In the end, I’m glad that those who were roped into the scheme, didn’t have their lives ruined based off of the poor circumstances they were in when the schemesters chose them to exploit for their own gain.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other recent crime documentaries and series.

Film Review: Deadwood: The Movie (2019)

Release Date: May 31st, 2019
Directed by: Daniel Minahan
Written by: David Milch
Music by: Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek
Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Paula Malcomson, W. Earl Brown, Dayton Callie, Kim Dickens, Brad Dourif, Anna Gunn, John Hawkes, Leon Rippy, William Sanderson, Robin Weigert, Brent Sexton, Sean Bridgers, Franklyn Ajaye, Gerald McRaney, Keone Young, Jeffrey Jones, Don Swayze, Jade Pettyjohn, Cleo King, Peter Jason, Geri Jewell, Garret Dillahunt (cameo), Larry Cedar (cameo)

Red Board Productions, The Mighty Mint, HBO Films, 110 Minutes

Review:

“It’s a sad night. Something’s afire. Christ, I do have feelings.” – Al Swearengen

Man, I’m still a bit pissed that we never got a fourth season of Deadwood, especially with how the third season ended. We were told that there’d be a movie to followup the series, however, but that seemed to be an empty promise, as it was in limbo for well over a decade. Well, in 2018, they were finally able to get the key cast members back to revisit the Deadwood world once again.

While I still would’ve preferred a fourth season and felt like the followup to the George Hearst storyline needed more time to come to its proper and satisfying conclusion, this was still probably the next best thing, considering the long hiatus and frankly, it’s better than nothing, as we’re no longer left with an intense, unresolved cliffhanger.

Even though, this film came out thirteen years after the show ended, the story takes place ten years later. It lets us peek into the lives of all these great characters once again and it does a pretty good job of closing out some lingering issues and plot threads. But, unfortunately, these characters deserved more time, especially since there are so many of them that you care about and only 110 minutes to wedge all this story into.

I get it, it was a bit of a miracle that this actually, finally, got made. But it would’ve been a richer, better and more satisfactory story had it at least been a multi-part miniseries or even the length of half of a regular season. While I know that these shows and films are expensive to produce, Deadwood was iconic and even if it is wrapped up, for better or worse, it just left you needing more.

Still, this was damn enjoyable and every actor really stepped up and brought their A-game, returning to roles that none of them had played for nearly a decade and a half. In fact, many of them have grown and become even better with all the added experience they’ve gotten over their careers. Most of these actors have gone on to do many, great things and it was impressive that they were actually able to get most of them back.

I thought the story was really good and the best that could be done with the running time. There isn’t a dull moment in the film and it flies by. On the flipside of that, it doesn’t feel like too much is stuffed in either. Plus, it is fairly well-balanced between all the key characters. I even like that they were able to work in some of the minor characters without it feeling forced or just cheap fan service.

While this isn’t as great as a fourth season could have been, it at least gives fans some closure after all these years. Still, I’d always be down for more.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the Deadwood television series, which should probably be watched first.

Vids I Dig 145: The Critical Drinker: ‘Watchmen’ – Episode 1

 

From The Critical Drinker’s YouTube description: So is HBO’s Watchmen a worthy successor to the critically acclaimed comic book and the dark and gritty Zack Snyder movie, or just a trashy, low-effort waste of time? Let’s find out as I review Episode 1 – “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out Of Ice”.

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

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.

Documentary Review: Spielberg (2017)

Release Date: October 5th, 2017 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Susan Lacy
Cast: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Richard Dreyfuss, John Williams, J.J. Abrams, James Brolin, Bob Balaban, Tom Hanks, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, Oprah Winfrey, Frank Marshall, Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Robert Zemeckis, Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter, Dustin Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tom Cruise, Eric Bana, Daniel Craig

HBO Documentary Films, Pentimento Productions, 147 Minutes

Review:

This was a pretty stellar documentary for fans of not just Steven Spielberg but filmmaking and film history in general.

It reminded me a lot of the 2001 documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures, in that this spent a lot of time breaking down most of the key movies in Spielberg’s oeuvre.

Every segment here was rich, detailed and featured interviews with some major directors, actors and producers. But the film also gets into Spielberg’s personal life and how real life experiences influenced his movies.

This was a lengthy documentary, just as the Kubrick one was and rightfully so. In fact, this could have been the length of a ten part, two hour apiece Ken Burns documentary and I still would have been fully engaged.

Spielberg’s career has been long and full of at least a dozen classic films that will be remembered forever. Each segment could’ve been it’s own documentary film and it actually kind of sucks that a few films were mentioned but not given as much detail, most notably A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, the Jurassic Park sequels and some of his production work like Back to the Future.

Still, this is pretty thorough and there is so much to unpack and take away from this. It is one of the best documentaries on a filmmaker’s life and career.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on specific directors but this reminded me a lot of Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures.

Film Review: American Splendor (2003)

Release Date: January 20th, 2003 (Sundance)
Directed by: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Written by: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Based on: American Splendor and Our Cancer Year by Harvey Pekar
Music by: Mark Suozzo
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Judah Friedlander, James Urbaniak, Donal Logue, Molly Shannon, Josh Hutcherson, Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner, Toby Radloff

Good Machine, Dark Horse Entertainment, Fine Line Features, HBO Films, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Why does everything in my life have to be such a complicated disaster?” – Joyce Brabner

Even though I grew up burying my head in comic books, I wasn’t really aware of Harvey Pekar until my late ’20s. Initially, his comic book style wasn’t something I sought out. I was more into superhero comics and sword and sorcery style fantasy epics.

However, I would say that I found Pekar (and Robert Crumb) at the right time in my life. Both men’s work captivated me and spoke to me in a very human but amusing way. Crumb was attractive to my deviant sensibilities, while Pekar spoke to that cynical observational part of myself that’s always watching and analyzing the shit show around me.

I’ve seen a lot of Pekar in interviews and things over the years and I’ve got to say that Paul Giamatti’s performance as Harvey Pekar is fantastic. While he might not exactly look like Harvey, which is actually joked about within this film in a fourth wall breaking critique by Pekar himself, Giamatti just captured the right type of charm and charisma and did this role justice.

Additionally, Judah Friedlander was absolutely spectacular as Pekar’s best bud Toby Radloff. Friedlander was so good, in fact, that even though I saw his name in the credits, I didn’t realize that it was him playing Toby until really late in the film.

All the other performances are also great. Especially Hope Davis as Joyce, Harvey’s wife, and James Urbaniak, who played Robert Crumb in a few key scenes.

The film covers the important parts of Pekar’s adult life quite well. It’s a film that has a lot of time pass in its 101 minutes but nothing feels rushed and every scene seems pretty vital, as the narrative hits the points it needs to in showcasing what was most important.

For someone that’s a professional creative and pretty grumpy on most days, it was easy for me to relate to Pekar and this film. It was a moving picture that tells a sweet story, even if the main character isn’t someone that would be likable by most people on a first impression.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Crumb and Basquiat.

Documentary Review: David Bowie: The Last Five Years (2017)

Release Date: January 7th, 2017 (UK)
Directed by: Francis Whatley
Music by: David Bowie
Cast: David Bowie (archive footage), Michael C. Hall, Sophia Anne Caruso, Toni Basil

BBC, HBO, 90 Minutes

Review:

I own more David Bowie records than any other musical act. I actually own every single album in some form or another. I have almost all of them on CD, except maybe two, I have many on tape and in recent years, I’ve come to own many of them on vinyl. He is, hands down, my favorite recording artist of all-time. Hell, in the nearly 50 years that he released albums, there isn’t even one that I find mediocre.

So when Bowie died, it was a big blow to me. Sure, I’ve felt it pretty hard when other artists have died but Bowie felt immortal and there was something about his long and storied musical history that touched me in ways other artists couldn’t.

Not to sound sappy but it took some time before I felt like watching this. I finally got around to it and I was really happy with how this documentary turned out, as it covers Bowie’s life in his final five years. Granted, it does go back further than that and spends some time talking about his Reality Tour in 2003.

The documentary features interviews and insight from a lot of the people that worked with Bowie during his last few years. There are no interviews with family but that’s okay, as this came out about a year after his death and I’m sure it was a bit too soon for them to feel as if they should chime in.

The interviews are all pretty solid and informative, though, and they really paint a picture of the man’s later years, how he was still passionate and how he viewed things like fame, especially later in life.

This goes into the production of Bowie’s later albums, music videos and a stage musical that he wrote and produced.

For Bowie fans, this is definitely worth a watch. If anything, it will make you miss the man, his infectious charisma and his pure, unlimited talent.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other recent music documentaries: Gimme Danger and A Band Called Death.

Documentary Review: Ferrell Takes the Field (2015)

Release Date: September 12th, 2015
Directed by: Brian McGinn
Music by: John Jennings Boyd, Brian Langsbard
Cast: Will Ferrell

Funny or Die, Gary Sanchez Productions, Major League Baseball, HBO, 49 Minutes

Review:

This is a documentary of something real but being that this is focused on Will Ferrell, he plays it up almost as if it’s a mockumentary. I get that he feels the need to be funny but I think this would have been cooler had it actually documented this event with a more realistic approach.

Still, this is fairly entertaining.

I’m pretty sure that HBO wanted to make this into more of a spectacle for ratings purposes and I guess it works for Ferrell fans.

This short film follows Will Ferrell as he plays ten different positions for ten different Major League Baseball teams over five Spring Training games in the Cactus League. The purpose behind the stunt is so that he can raise money for cancer charities.

For fans of baseball, especially Spring Training, this is pretty cool to watch, as you see Ferrell travel Arizona and visit different ballparks. Being a Floridian, I would have rather he done this in the Grapefruit League but Arizona is cool too.

It’s fun seeing Ferrell interact with real MLB players and managers but as a documentary, this doesn’t do much to make me care about his charitable work and the true meaning behind this publicity stunt. I’m glad that Ferrell and company looked to be enjoying themselves but something more organic and natural probably would have benefited the film’s audience and the charitable work more.

I get that Will Ferrell is a funny guy but he didn’t need to be “in character” from start to finish. Show your human side, man. Be natural for once and show the world why this actually means so much to you. We can still laugh along the way because the humor still would have surfaced.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Will Ferrell’s sports comedies.

Documentary Review: Leaving Neverland (2019)

Also known as: Leaving Neverland: Michael Jackson and Me (UK)
Release Date: January 25th, 2019 (Sundance Film Festival)
Directed by: Dan Reed
Music by: Chad Hobson
Cast: Michael Jackson (archive footage), Wade Robson, Jimmy Safechuck

Amos Pictures, HBO, Channel 4, Kew Media, 236 Minutes, 182 Minutes (UK)

Review:

So, yeah… I had to watch this because there has been so much controversy around this documentary.

First off, if you take this documentary at face value and don’t go through the details with a fine tooth comb, it’s pretty convincing and pretty damning. But like all documentaries, this one had its agenda and it had to hit its points home without there being any counterpoints to what was presented as “fact”.

To be blunt, this is incredibly one-sided and hopefully, people are astute enough to see the forest for the trees, even if the two alleged victims that are featured in this documentary come off as genuine. And I do think they do come off as genuine or they are just damn good actors and deserve every Oscar next year.

I’m not saying that the victims are lying and I don’t want to doubt them, assuming their stories are true. But there are a lot of holes and when looking at the facts that are presented here, some of them don’t line up with details that are already public knowledge.

One example I should point out, is that Jimmy Safechuck’s mom says that she danced for joy when Michael Jackson died in 2009 because he couldn’t sexually abuse anymore children. However, Safechuck never told his mom that Jackson abused him until he was inspired by Wade Robson coming forward in 2013. And this is just one of several things that don’t add up when you take these victims’ stories at face value and look at other important factors like the actual timeline of events.

This was a compelling documentary and I am certainly not dismissing the possibility that Michael Jackson sexually abused children but if the victims’ stories are to be believed, there are a lot of plot holes and details that need to be ironed out.

The biggest problem, is that I can’t take any of this at face value because looking beyond this documentary as entertainment, which is what it is designed to be, as fucked up as that is, these stories come apart when you do any research beyond what is laid out and spoon fed to the audience for four whopping hours. But then, you can see that things don’t add up just within this movie, if you are actually paying attention to the finer points. Plus, the movie isn’t exactly clear on the dates of events it discusses, except where something happens around an event known by the mass populace like the release of an album or actual trials.

I’m not on either side of the debate here. However, it is pretty damn weird that Michael Jackson spent so much time with kids behind closed doors without parents around. But even if Jackson was a predator, the fault really lands right in the parents’ laps.

I don’t want to doubt the story of any victim but we live in a country where you are innocent until proven guilty and when details don’t add up or make sense, that’s more than enough for me to dismiss whatever story is being sold to me.

This was shoddy filmmaking where the film’s own director shot himself in the foot by not catching contradicting details. It was agenda driven, didn’t offer up anything fair and balanced and presented no real evidence other than the stories of two victims, stretched to an ungodly length.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: various other documentaries about Michael Jackson.