Documentary Review: Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train a Comin’ (2013)

Also known as: American Masters: Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train a Comin’
Release Date: November 5th, 2013
Directed by: Bob Smeaton
Music by: Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Kramer (mixer)
Cast: Jimi Hendrix (archive footage)

Eagle Rock Entertainment, WNET Channel 13 New York, PBS, 90 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train a Comin’ was actually an episode of PBS’ long-running television series American Masters. Even though this is a single episode of a show that has been on for decades, it is itself a film. In fact, it is one of the best biographical documentaries of a musician that I have seen in recent memory.

Obviously the film goes through the life of one of America’s greatest musicians of all-time, some would argue the best. This film has some pretty candid interviews however. Some of the most important and intimate are the old interviews with his father and the more modern ones with his sister, as well as other rock & roll gods and top rock music journalists.

The film gives a lot of insight into the personal life of Jimi, more so than other documentaries that I’ve seen on him. It extensively goes into his time in England, which was some of the coolest stuff in this documentary. The archive footage and performances of Hendrix were pretty amazing and should, from a cultural standpoint, be deemed priceless.

This PBS produced film is definitely worth the 90 minute playtime. It is currently streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other American Masters documentaries.

Documentary Review: Red Army (2014)

Release Date: May 16th, 2014 (Cannes)
Directed by: Gabe Polsky
Written by: Gabe Polsky
Music by: Christophe Beck, Leo Birenberg
Cast: Viacheslav Fetisov, Vladislav Tretiak, Scotty Bowman, Vladimir Pozner

Gabriel Polsky Productions, Sony Pictures Classics, 84 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Gabe Polsky and Werner Herzog, now regular collaborators, worked together on this documentary. Polsky directed and conducted the interviews, where Herzog produced it.

This film follows the story of the Soviet Union’s last great hockey team, as told through their point of view. It follows them through their early days as kids in the system, through international competition, the Olympics, political and social turmoil, as well as their journey to North America and the NHL.

The bulk of the story is told through the eyes of legendary player Viacheslav Fetisov. He is dynamic, charismatic and, at times, an abrasive cantankerous jerk. But he does seem to tell an honest story and expresses his feelings and his tale pretty thoroughly. He’s straightforward and comes with a no nonsense approach, other than poking fun at the director here and there.

The most important thing about this film, is how intimately it portrays these young players relationship with the Soviet Union’s sports system and the hardship and challenges they faced. It also displays their loyalty to their country and the pride they had for playing on the national team but it evolves into their inability to trust their coach and that same system, as it holds them prisoner and doesn’t allow for them to have lives.

Through the broken promises and mistreatment over the years, many of these players eventually left the crumbling Soviet Union for the greener pastures of the National Hockey League in the United States and Canada. It then follows their struggles in the NHL and how these Russians adapted and then changed the game at it’s highest professional level.

This is a thought provoking and fast-paced documentary. It has something for everyone, whether you are into sports, politics or both. Truthfully, it is one of the best hockey documentaries that I have seen in quite some time.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Of Miracles and MenMiracle and The Nagano Tapes: Rewound, Replayed & Reviewed.

Documentary Review: A.K.A. Cassius Clay (1970)

Release Date: November 4th, 1970
Directed by: Jimmy Jacobs
Written by: Bernard Evslin
Music by: Teo Macero
Cast: Muhammad Ali, Cus D’Amato, Richard Kiley (narrator)

Sports of the Century, William Cayton Productions, United Artists, 79 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

I wish there were more vintage boxing documentaries floating around Netflix.

A.K.A. Cassius Clay is a damned good documentary. It was made in 1970 and it follows Muhammad Ali while he was banned from boxing due to his refusal of being inducted into the United States Army due to religious beliefs. For those who don’t know, Ali was a member of the Nation of Islam, which at the time, was considered to be highly controversial. Luckily we’ve evolved since then.

The film gave an honest and sincere glimpse into the life of Muhammad Ali as he toured colleges, speaking to the youth about civil rights and other issues that were important to him at the time. Due to his exile from the ring, he wasn’t able to work and his speaking engagements at least allowed him to make money and pay his bills.

The film also goes into his boxing career and gives a lot of insight into the man and what made him tick. There’s lots of good interviews and intimate footage of the great Ali and those who he let into his inner circle. This is a compelling documentary that gives the viewer a sort of backstage pass to Ali’s life at a very interesting time. If you’re a boxing fan and/or an Ali fan, I can’t recommend this film enough.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: When We Were KingsTysonChampsUnforgivable Blackness and The Trials of Muhammad Ali.

TV Review: Deadwood (2004-2006)

Original Run: March 21st, 2004 – August 27th, 2006
Created by: David Milch
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: David Schwartz
Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Jim Beaver, W. Earl Brown, Dayton Callie, Kim Dickens, Brad Dourif, Anna Gunn, John Hawkes, Jeffrey Jones, Paula Malcomson, Leon Rippy, William Sanderson, Robin Weigert, Sean Bridgers, Garret Dillahunt, Titus Welliver, Brent Sexton, Bree Seanna Wall, Josh Eriksson, Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine, Gerald McRaney, Keone Young, Ray McKinnon, Brian Cox, Sarah Paulson, Zach Grenier, Cleo King, Stephen Tobolowsky, Richard Gant, Alice Krige, Fiona Dourif, Kristen Bell

Roscoe Productions, Red Board Productions, Paramount Television, HBO Entertainment, 36 Episodes (so far), 48-60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

HBO’s Deadwood was ahead of its time. It only lasted for three seasons but luckily it stuck around that long. It also ended on sort of a cliffhanger and left you wanting to know what would happen after its final moments at the end of its stellar third season. Well, apparently HBO has announced that, ten years later, there is a movie on the way.

As for the show itself, it is really the first gritty and brutally realistic showcase of frontier life I had ever seen on television up to that point. It pulled no punches and went all out.

Now it did take some time to fall in love with. The first season moves a bit slow but by the time you get to the final episode of that season and see how the characters are changing and how they’ve evolved in a short time, it gets pretty compelling.

Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane are perfect and their relationship is one of the most dynamic in television history. This was also both men at their absolute best. While Olyphant is the first billed star, Ian McShane seems to get more actual screen time and overall, is the more interesting character.

The rest of the cast is full of several well known and great actors. And every one of these characters has a great story surrounding them. Most shows with large ensemble casts suffer from questionable quality with certain characters, as there is always someone wedged into large shows that either doesn’t fit or has an awful plot thread going on. This doesn’t happen in Deadwood. In fact, as far as a character driven drama, it has some of the best character development I have ever seen in a show. Even the characters, who at first, feel somewhat generic, end up having a lot of layers to explore.

Now the show isn’t as beautiful and as vast feeling as the AMC’s big western show Hell On Wheels but it edges it out in regards to its large ensemble cast, all of whom are more interesting and complex than most of the characters on Hell On WheelsDeadwood lacks in not being as visually epic as Hell On Wheels but it has more to sink your teeth into overall and it also takes place in a small camp and not an endless wide-open frontier. I like these shows pretty much the same but Hell On Wheels is a wee bit ahead simply because the rivalry between Bohannon and the Swede was incredible.

At the end of the day, Deadwood is one of the two best western shows I have ever seen. It is also one of the best HBO shows ever produced. It’s short run was unfortunate but the fact that this got on television to begin with is pretty awesome.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Hell On Wheels and because it shares a lot of actors with these shows, Fear the Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy.

Talking Pulp: The Politics of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

*Written circa 2011 when I was running a blog about politics and economics.

I recently re-watched 1987′s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and I was quickly reminded as to why this film is by far the worst in the series. It completely lacks the utter awesomeness that was Superman and Superman II and even though Superman III is arguably a suckfest, it did have Richard Fucking Pryor and an awesome fight between Superman and his evil doppelgänger, which made for great cinema when I was a really young lad.

Superman IV, however, was an incredibly poor effort at cashing in on the franchise while Christopher Reeve needed a large vehicle to get his personal political message across. In fact, the only way he would do a fourth film, was if he was allowed to write it and to add his political ideology to it. Unfortunately, for us comic book and film fans, he used one of the greatest heroes of all time to convey that message.

The film more or less begins with the potential threat of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Superman then gets a sappy letter from a young boy who is concerned about nukes killing us all. Superman debates his own mind on whether or not he should intervene. He actually goes to the Fortress of Solitude to seek advice from the ghosts of his long gone ancestors. They warn him not to intervene and tell him to find another home away from Earth. Despite their advice, Superman goes before the United Nations and tells the world leaders that he promises to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Already, we are being introduced to a new kind of Superman who is willing to play God in an effort to create a global nanny state. Now while Superman’s motivation and efforts seem noble, he is interfering in the affairs of several governments and essentially turning himself into a know-it-all de facto dictator over the people of Earth.

If Superman can take it upon himself to tell us all how we need to live or even die in this example, he is preventing mankind from making their own choices and learning their own lessons. Like big government, Superman assumes he knows what’s best and is going to use force against humanity to mold us into the world he desires. Superman is robbing us of our freedom in what is a classic example of bad things happening because of good intentions. Superman is so high on his own Kryptonian ego that he fails to realize the unintended consequences his actions will bring forth.

Realistically, one has to wonder if Superman’s selfless actions are indeed selfless or if he is really driven by a selfish agenda. Whenever someone thinks that they know what is best for everyone else and then decides to take action, they show that they are close-minded control freaks that are under the strong belief that people cannot take care of themselves and make their own decisions. Superman assumes he is more informed than the rest of us. This is a Superman I do not like and essentially, he is on the road to becoming a supervillain.

A friend of mine, while we were discussing this via e-mail, added some great points:

Superman has become a villain because he is using the threat of force to subjugate the world to live by his personal moral code. He forced governments of the world to deliver to him their possible only recourse to defeat a possible threat, which is Superman. I bet this new Superman would next force all governments, especially in Africa where it was first discovered, to retrieve and encase all Kryptonite in lead. Superman can then throw that into the sun and therefore the governments of the world and its people would forever be subjected to dictator Superman.

Just like that, people put too much faith in any authority figure larger than themselves. They believe that government, while in the beginnings a humble, dedicatedly small entity, grows into the monstrosity that can destroy freedom for all. And we allowed it to happen, put a shiny symbol on it and say it’s for your own good and if enough people believe, we become defenseless and subjected to the whims of a power mad villain.

All things to think about.

Not only is the issue of eradicating all the nuclear missiles from Earth a big step towards tyranny but the fact that Superman addresses the United Nations, as if they are the real governing power, is a slap in the face of his home country, the United States. Superman has always been a patriot and always exuded the very best qualities of American Exceptionalism. Now he is basically telling the globalist bastards that he is their puppet and he is willing to put their interests before those of his own country.

Now I can see the point in wanting global unity and world peace, I think any sane human would want that. However, Superman treats the UN as if they are a world government and in doing so, he dismisses the Constitution and American sovereignty. I’m not trying to say that he can only play for our team and that he shouldn’t strive to better things but he also shouldn’t act on gut instincts and take such drastic measures at the expense of his homeland. Superman’s actions undermined the United States and in effect, painted them as one of the villains of the story.

Throughout his journey, Superman is once again confronted by a scheme from Lex Luthor. This time Luthor, with his nephew Lenny, devises a plan that could actually potentially destroy our hero. Taking advantage of Superman’s blind faith in his quest, Luthor plants a surprise in a nuclear missile. When that missile is launched, Superman intercepts it and throws it into the sun. Once the weapon explodes into the sun, a new menace is born. Lex Luthor’s new superweapon, known simply as “Nuclear Man”, grows out of the solar-nuclear explosion and flies back to Earth to cause destruction in what is the perfect allegory to all the points I’ve been trying to make.

Nuclear Man wreaks havoc and nearly kills Superman a few times but is ultimately destroyed after being dropped into a nuclear reactor. Hey, nuclear power saves the day! Lex Luthor and Lenny Luthor are rounded up with Lex being sent back to prison and Lenny being sent to a Boy’s Town home. In the end, all is happy and well and Superman regains his senses, thus abandoning his egomaniacal quest to destroy all the nukes in the world. Maybe after all that, common sense struck him and he finally realized that weapons of mass destruction could just be rebuilt and that his quest would be endless.

The film ends with Superman once again undermining the United States and going straight to the United Nations to make a speech. In that heartfelt speech he declares that his mission only achieved a partial victory saying, “There will be peace when the people of the world want it so badly that their governments will have no choice but to give it to them.” While that sounds good, Superman has now gone from hero to villain to hippie. Unfortunately, governments will not just give peace when everyone wishes it. Government is force but Superman is apparently too trusting in the decision makers to make the right decisions when the time comes. The same decision makers that made the decisions to make the nuclear missiles to begin with. The same decision makers that continually go to war, disregarding what the people at home actually want. The same decision makers that formed governments to begin with and invented war when the world was already in a state of global peace.

Poor, poor Superman, you’ve fallen so hard and so far that you can’t even see the forest for the trees. Is this the protector of Earth that you want? A guy reacting to his gut that can’t properly assess a situation that has godlike power to carry out whatever mission he pleases? Whether the film ended on a happy note or not, given enough time, this Superman would once again take it upon himself to forcibly shape the future of our world and everything in it. While he promotes and wishes for peace, the world could never achieve it with Superman standing guard atop the United Nations building.

The truth is, this story was borderline ridiculous for several of the points I already made. In reality, there is no way that all the nuclear weapons could be rounded up and destroyed. Even if this could happen, what is to stop the nations of the world from building more? Also, if you were say China or Iran or North Korea and Superman, who you’ve always associated with America, swoops down into your country and rounds up your nukes, would that not be an act of war? Wouldn’t people in countries that were forcibly disarmed become paranoid over the fact that Superman may have missed some somewhere and therefore, they are now sitting ducks? Apart from that, would everyone in the world just trust Superman to do the right thing and eliminate all the warheads indiscriminately?

What if he actually left America’s nukes alone and this was just a ploy to disarm everyone else?

No one would get paranoid when this guy started missile collecting and fire some of theirs off before Superman was able to get there and stop them? And even if Superman stopped those missiles, what if other nervous leaders got freaked out by the missiles that were being launched and they started launching their own as a countermeasure? Could Superman stop every fired off nuke in the world? It’s easy to just think that he can fly around and force his will on everyone and disarm them but there would be real repercussions that would be catastrophic if not apocalyptic. In trying to save the Earth, Superman would be the last being standing on a smoldering radioactive heap.

You see, even if he could remove all the weapons of mass destruction, he couldn’t force the evil out of evil men’s hearts. In fact, his actions would only anger them more and would spawn other forms of attack. Look at 9/11, that wasn’t done with a nuclear missile. If there is a will, there is a way and if evil men want to strike at the heart of whatever they feel is their enemy, they will still try and sometimes succeed. It’s nice to fantasize and wish that there was someone like Superman who could save the world from itself but ultimately, it is up to mankind to save itself or not.

Documentary Review: The Four Year Plan (2011)

Release Date: November 16th, 2011 (IDFA Festival – Netherlands)
Directed by: Mat Hodgson
Music by: Rob Lord

Ad Hoc Films, 99 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

The Four Year Plan is another soccer documentary in a long series of soccer documentaries that I’ve been watching the last week or so. It follows the Queens Park Rangers (or QPR) as they are faced with relegation, new ownership and their fight to get promoted back into the Premier League.

This film was done almost guerrilla style, as the cameras were left rolling seemingly at all times. We get looks into the locker room, the boardroom and every other realm that involves running and managing a soccer team. The footage was top quality and was edited together nicely, providing the viewer with an engaging story of failure turned to perseverance.

Giving good perspective into the business side of things is what I found most interesting in this film because there isn’t a lot that I have seen in my lifetime that shows the behind the scenes meetings of British soccer with so much transparency. I’m obviously aware that they didn’t show their most secret meetings and sessions but you still got to go deeper into this world than you would expect.

In the end, it was a good sports documentary that gave serious insight into the world of British soccer, which most Americans don’t have access to. The action parts of the film were also well presented and gave it a good balance between the sport and the business.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: One Night In Turin, Hillsborough, Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos and ESPN’s 30 For 30: Soccer Stories series.

Talking Pulp: In Defense of George Lucas & Property Rights (in the form of a drunken rant)

*Written circa 2011 when I was running a blog about politics and economics. And well before Disney bought the franchise and made the Prequel Trilogy look like a masterpiece.

George Lucas is the man that nearly every fucked up juvenile thirty-something fanboy loves to hate. Now I understand that people have the right to be critical of someone’s work when it is put out there for public consumption but to hate the man as vehemently as many people do, is just absurd.

Many fans of Star Wars and Indiana Jones feel that somehow those franchises are theirs and that Mr. Lucas has gone out and ruined them. People truly feel that these massive franchises are their intellectual property and that they have some sort of ownership rights to them. Nothing is further than the truth. So when I read articles all over the Internet about how much of a greedy sick untalented hack George Lucas has become, it really pisses me off.

Now don’t get your tiny nads in a tangled tizzy, I’m not here to defend the Prequel Trilogy or Crystal Skull, in fact, as a fan, I have serious issues with these films as well but unlike the consensus, I don’t allow my dislike of some minor things that are insignificant to my life as a whole push me over the edge to the point that I am out for this man’s blood. I certainly don’t harbor the opinion that somehow his later work has bastardized and ruined his earlier magic. Even with some of the questionable changes to the Original Star Wars Trilogy, the films are pretty damn solid and to discount their greatness over Jar Jar Binks and wooden actors is in later films is asinine.

The Original Trilogy set the stage for what was to come in the future of movies. They were damn good films in every respect and they influenced nearly every person that has picked up a film camera since they came out. Star Wars forever changed Hollywood, the art of filmmaking and special effects. George Lucas, through his intuitive and crafty brilliance, upped the ante and forced film studios to catch up to his imagination and vision. The sad thing is that people often forget this when bashing a man that just wants to share his stories with the world. It’s quite obvious that George Lucas is a child at heart and he only wants to make us smile. However, there’s always an asshole in every group and unfortunately for Mr. Lucas, it seems as if the assholes outnumber the sane people in this instance.

I don’t really understand where this entitled attitude comes from with fans and I’m not just talking about Star Wars fans, I’m talking about fans of any franchise really. These people who get so disenfranchised with something they once loved to the point that it makes them spit venom at the stories’ creators is childish and narrow-minded. If guys like Lucas didn’t create and deliver their masterpieces to you in the first place, you’d have nothing to base any of this on. To curse a man’s legacy and the man himself, who has given you decades of joy is pretty disgusting and just shows how sad and pathetic some of these pompous bitches are. Hell, I still remember people being in an uproar over the Battlestar Galactica remake before they actually saw it. In the end, it was pretty close to being a science fiction masterpiece! Sometimes you have to spread your wings and fly and that’s what Lucas did. When series are rebooted, remade or continued on, it can go really well or really bad – that’s the risk involved but the person who owns the rights to the property has the freedom to do what they want with it.

No one owns Star Wars but George Lucas. For anyone to claim that they have some sort of right over the man’s blood, sweat and tears is ridiculous. He owns the franchise, he owns the characters within it and he can tell any tale that he wants to tell. The fact of the matter is that people have a choice. They don’t have to watch the new material if it isn’t up to their standards and fails to meet their expectations. These little bastard jitterbugs act as if there is some sort of magical gun to their head and that they are forced to soak up every bit of Star Wars that is released. Well people, you don’t have to do a damn thing! You can opt out and never look back.

The problem is that so many people put so much of themselves into this fantasy world that they lose a sense of their own reality and when things don’t go the way that they want, the fantasy starts to remind these sad people living vicariously through the fiction that real life is moving along without them. Nostalgia is a motherfucker and it only seems to exist strongly in those who are unsatisfied with what’s really going on around them. To have intense hatred for George Lucas or any great storyteller because their work becomes less than what it once was is pathetic. To invest that much emotion into complete fantasy is retarded. Yes, I wrote “retarded”; call the sensitivity police.

Kids today, and by kids I mean middle-aged nerds, just don’t seem to respect property rights. Of course, if someone thought that they could infringe upon or add their unlimited hysterical two cents to everything one of these hypocritical fanboys did, they’d have a serious fucking shit fit. Hell, they probably wouldn’t come out of their mom’s basement for several months while losing themselves in an endless one-person Skyrim marathon where the only way they’ll even eat is if their mother slides a plate of cold cuts and cheese puffs under the door.

The reason I feel the need to write this rant is because I’ve come across several articles lately that have stated that the fans of these franchises have invested so much of themselves into them that they truly believe they now have some sort of stake or ownership in the property. Yes, the property that they have never contributed anything to creatively other than writing their own shitty unofficial and non-profit fan fictions and role-playing scenarios dictated amongst their equally entitled geek pals. You people have no claim to anything and to think you do makes you look like socialist pussies who are convinced that the whole world and everyone in it owes them something just because they are breathing.

Fuck you people. If you don’t like something, move on. Hell, stop crying into your tauntaun sleeping bags and go create something yourself. If you think you know more about storytelling, science fiction and fantasy than George Lucas then go out and fucking prove it! If you don’t, then you’re nothing more than a whiney talentless hack yourself and I’d tell you to go get a girlfriend or boyfriend but the only people that would have you won’t leave their basements either. Create something for once in your life and stop trying to destroy someone who just wants to share their imagination with you. You people are the parasite sponges of the world that rape and pillage the ideas of those greater than you because you’re weak and can’t make something bigger than yourself that people will passionately care about. It’s time to grow up and stop acting like ungrateful cunts.

The truth is, George Lucas has contributed more to this world than any of you probably ever will. Besides, you’re the ones “torturing” yourselves with weekly doses of Clone Wars not Mr. Lucas. Guess what, you don’t have to watch it.

Accept it and move on. It’s fucking entertainment for chrissakes.