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.

TV Review: Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (2020)

Original Run: May 27th, 2020
Directed by: Lisa Bryant
Based on: Filthy Rich: A Powerful Billionaire, the Sex Scandal that Undid Him, and All the Justice that Money Can Buy: The Shocking True Story of Jeffrey Epstein by James Patterson
Music by: Justin Melland

RadicalMedia, JP Entertainment, Third Eye Motion Picture Company, Netflix, 4 Episodes, 55-57 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I didn’t know as much about this story as I probably needed to. Sure, I, like most people, know the general gist of it but not the details.

Although, if I’m being honest, I kind of expected this to go much deeper and also expose the guy’s ties to some of the politicians and celebrities that were in his orbit.

Regardless of that, this was still a decent primer on the horrible shit that this guy did.

Frankly, this was pretty tough to get through, as you come to realize how deep the rabbit hole goes and how many different under-aged girls that this guy sexually assaulted on a constant basis.

Most importantly, this serves as a warning against the type of people that prey on young girls, as well as looking at their behavior and the methods that they could use to exploit and violate others.

As a documentary, I thought this was just okay. I feel like it needed a lot more information and that it could’ve gone a lot deeper into Epstein’s reach among the elite.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other recent Netflix true crime documentaries.

TV Review: Fear City: New York vs. The Mafia (2020)

Original Run: July 22nd, 2020
Created by: Dimitri Doganis, Bart Layton, Adam Hawkins, Jon Liebman
Directed by: Sam Hobkinson
Cast: Rudy Giuliani, various

Brillstein Entertainment Partners, Raw Television, Netflix, 3 Episodes, 44-62 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I watched this on a recommendation by a friend. I was glad I did though, as I might not have known about it, as I rarely even login to Netflix anymore.

The title is pretty self-explanatory but to delve beyond that, this specifically talks about how guys like Rudy Giuliani, other lawyers and the FBI worked at bringing down the big crime families in New York City during the mid-’80s.

The show features a lot of talking head interviews by the people who were there, as they recount all the key events and developments that led to the collapse of organized crime and how their efforts changed how mob rule would be fought against forever.

Overall, this is engaging and packed full of so many great stories that I was pretty captivated by it from start to finish. In fact, I binged through it in one sitting but it is also only three episodes long.

I’d like to see this series continue in the future, maybe looking at how organized crime was fought in different cities or regions.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other recent crime documentaries, many others are also found on Netflix.

TV Review: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (2020)

Original Run: March 20th, 2020
Created by: Chris Smith, Fisher Stevens, Eric Goode, Rebecca Chaiklin
Directed by: Eric Goode, Rebecca Chaiklin
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh, John Enroth, Albert Fox, Robert Mothersbaugh
Cast: Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin, Bhagavan Antle, John Finlay, Rick Kirkham, John Reinke, Saff Saffery, Jeff Lowe, Howard Baskin, Travis Maldonado, Dillon Passage

Netflix, 7 Episodes, 41-48 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I knew all about Joe Exotic and even though he’s a weird eccentric zoo keeper and wannabe politician that tried to pay someone to commit murder, I wasn’t super excited to have to sit through an entire documentary miniseries about it.

Being that everyone and I mean everyone is talking about this damn show, I figured I’d just give the first episode or two a watch to see if it’s all that it’s cracked up to be. Well, I’ve got to say, it sucked me in.

Granted, this could be due to not having a whole lot to do during the COVID-19 pandemic but the real reason this latched onto my mind is due to all the other characters in this story. The majority of these people are all eccentric, batshit crazy and have major skeletons in their closets.

Sure, I knew who Carole Baskin was but I never really deep dived into her past, as this documentary does. I was also aware of Bhagavan Antle but I didn’t know that he basically ran a fucking zoo harem. Add in all the other colorful weirdos and criminals and this becomes one of the most intriguing and weirdest true crime sagas that I’ve ever seen unfold.

This is compelling television and it tries to tell all sides of the story. It appears to be mostly fair to all parties involved but I can see how almost all of them will have a problem with how they were portrayed here, as it doesn’t paint a nice picture for nearly any of the participants. Point being, this doesn’t seem biased in one direction or the other and maybe these are all just shitty people.

Only a few of the key or even minor players here came out looking kind of okay. And if anything, this exposes just how insane this world is and it certainly doesn’t do any favors for the big cat and exotic animal industries. But I’m okay with that, as these places really shouldn’t exist and humankind should work towards not keeping wild animals in captivity, unless it is to actually help and study animals without using them as attractions or personal pets.

In the end, none of these people really seem to give a shit about the animals they claim they’re doing this for.

But I’m also not here to rant on about the politics of this.

So as a show, this is pretty effective and informative entertainment. Now I can’t say that this is effective because of how it is presented, I just think that the story itself is so fascinating on its own that it made the documentary filmmakers’ jobs easier. Granted, I’m also not saying their not skilled, this is just a unique and bonkers story full of strange, oddball, dark personalities that the show just sort of sells itself without any need for extra frills and post-production or narrative trickery.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Joe Exotic’s crazy campaign videos.

TV Review: James Ellroy’s L.A.: City of Demons (2011)

Original Run: January 19th, 2011 – February 23rd, 2011
Directed by: various
Cast: James Ellroy (host/narrator), Phil LaMarr (voice)

Digital Ranch Productions, 6 Episodes, 43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This is a weird show. No, not because of the subject matter but because of the way this thing was produced and presented.

I guess this is James Ellroy’s baby but he doesn’t make a good host or narrator, as his delivery is off putting and distracting. Where most of these episodes had interesting topics, it was hard to get lost in the tales because Ellroy delivered his lines like a monotone crazy person that likes to go, “BAM!” between every segue in his story.

Also, there are these weird bits in each episode where he talks to a CGI cop dog that looks like Spuds McKenzie. These scenes are bafflingly bad with worse computer graphics than a homebrew 1994 PC game from the Ukraine.

I really wanted to delve into these stories, as each one was like a real life film-noir from a bygone era.

Ultimately, this was poorly crafted, poorly presented and even though I got through all six episodes, I felt like I wasted my time trying to dig through the dirt to find the treasure.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other crime documentary shows.

TV Review: Road to the NHL Stadium Series – Sharks v. Kings (2015)

Original Run: February, 2015
Written by: Aaron Cohen
Cast: Bill Camp (narrator)

Ross Greenberg Productions, EPIX, 4 Episodes, 60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

This four-part documentary series is a sister program to EPIX’s Road to the NHL Winter Classic.

Where the Road to the NHL Winter Classic followed the Chicago Blackhawks and the Washington Capitals, this documentary series follows the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, who are bitter rivals. The fact that the Sharks and Kings hate each other is what added a bit more credence and excitement to what was at stake in this documentary.

In recent years, the Kings have won two Stanley Cups and a lot of bragging rights. The San Jose Sharks have spent a decade or so as a real contender for the Cup but have fallen just short on a number of occasions. Many times, it has been at the hands of the hated Kings.

This series follows many of the key players on both teams, as well as the coaches and gives an intimate view of the behind the scenes stuff that most fans aren’t privy to. It tells the story, in their words, and is beautifully shot and edited – following the precedent set by the Road to the NHL Winter Classic.

All of this builds up to the big crescendo, which is the Sharks and Kings fighting it out on the ice in a Stadium Series game. For those who don’t know, the Stadium Series is comprised of outdoor hockey games held in massive venues. In this case, they played at Levi Stadium in San Francisco, CA.

If you are a hockey fan or just a fan of sports documentaries, this is a pretty unique series to watch. It plays like a second season of the Road to the NHL Winter Classic but its cast of characters and story is its own. And like its predecessor, you can check it out on Netflix streaming.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other EPIX NHL documentary series.

 

TV Review: Road to the NHL Winter Classic – Blackhawks v. Capitals (2014)

Original Run: December, 2014
Written by: Aaron Cohen
Cast: Bill Camp (narrator)

Ross Greenberg Productions, EPIX, 4 Episodes, 60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

To ring in the most recent Winter Classic event put on by the National Hockey League, EPIX ran a four-part one hour documentary series called Road to the NHL Winter Classic. Unfortunately, I don’t have EPIX but I was able to catch this a few months later, as it is currently streaming on Netflix.

The documentary series follows the two teams involved in the big event: the home team Washington Capitals and the visiting Chicago Blackhawks. It goes through their recent history and chronicles the first few months of their season – leading up to the big event. The fourth and final part of the documentary covers the big game itself, the result of it and a bit of aftermath. It is certainly worth checking out if you are a hockey fan, especially if you are a Capitals or Blackhawks fan.

The series gives a nice look into the personal lives of coaches Joel Quenneville (Blackhawks) and Barry Trotz (Capitals). It also follows a lot of the key players on both sides of the equation. It shows an inside view of both organizations and hockey as a whole. It is nice seeing some of these guys in roles other than just warriors on the ice.

Road to the NHL Winter Classic is well shot, well edited and presented nicely. I actually hope it is the start of more NHL documentary projects. Other sports need to step their game up because NFL Films has been ruling the roost for decades.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other EPIX NHL documentary series.

Film Review: Salem’s Lot (1979)

Also known as: Salem’s Lot: The Movie (cable TV title), Blood Thirst (video title), Phantasma 2 (Spain), Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (Netherlands), Salem’s Lot: The Miniseries (Germany)
Release Dates: November 17th, 1979, November 24th, 1979
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Paul Monash
Based on: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Music by: Harry Sukman
Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres, Ed Flanders, Fred Willard, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor

Warner Bros. Television, CBS, 184 Minutes (uncut), 183 Minutes (DVD), 200 Minutes (TV), 112 Minutes (theatrical version)

Review:

“You’ll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he’ll enjoy you.” – Straker

The last time I watched this wonderful film/TV miniseries was just before the 2004 remake came out. So it’s been a really long time and because of that, I guess I forgot how incredibly fantastic this was.

While I’ve never read the book, I know about what changes they made in this adaptation and frankly, I’m fine with all the major tweaks.

For one, the vampire is not some Eastern European dandy of the Bela Lugosi variety. Instead, Tobe Hooper gave us a vampire that is more reminiscent of Count Orlok from the 1922 film Nosferatu. And the late ’70s were a great time for vampire movies, especially lovers of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu between this picture and the Nosferatu remake by Werner Herzog.

Another change that was made is that the final confrontation with the heroes and the vampire took place in the creepy basement of the vampire’s house, as opposed to one of the heroes’ homes. The vampire house was truly a character all its own in this film and it made this movie a mixture of classic vampire fiction and a traditional haunted house story.

What’s really great about the finale, is that the house that was created for the film is absolutely terrifying and enchanting all at the same time. The set designers created an incredibly creepy mansion for the final showdown and it truly brought the dread onscreen to a whole other level. A level that this film couldn’t have reached had they kept the story true to Stephen King’s novel.

The vampire mansion is just one part of this movie’s mesmerizing atmosphere, though.

All the scenes that feature some sort of supernatural element take on a strange life of their own. The scenes where the vampire children come to the windows and float into the rooms at night with fog billowing in are f’n incredible!

Honestly, for its time and maybe all-time, Salem’s Lot takes the cake for creating a perfect ambiance for a horror picture on the small screen. Honestly, I’d love to see this on the big screen, if it is ever showing somewhere near me.

The vampire kids at the window was so well done that it became a bit of a trope following this film. It was used in other movies like The Lost Boys and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Plus, this film has a moment where a character is impaled by deer antlers mounted on the wall. This would go on to be seen in other movies as well.

Additionally, this would inspire vampire movies in other regards. Fright Night borrows from Salem’s Lot in different ways. That film even has a big finale in the vampire’s home and while it isn’t as incredible as the finale of Salem’s Lot, it is still a great sequence that is a nice homage to it. Fright Night is a classic in its own right, which also spawned a sequel, a remake and sequel to the remake. I even heard a rumor that it may be turned into a television show in the future.

But while this film would go on to inspire countless others, Tobe Hooper, the director, also had his own homages to other films in this, primarily the work of Alfred Hitchcock and his masterpiece Psycho. The vampire mansion has a very similar appearance to the house on the hill above Bates Motel. Hooper also employed similar shots.

For a TV movie, this also has some pretty good acting but no one else quite kills it like James Mason. He absolutely owns every frame of celluloid in which he appears. I’ve always loved Mason but seeing him truly get to ham it up while being terrifying was so damn cool. And honestly, Mason looked like he was loving this film, as he was so committed to the role that he breathed life into it that no other actor probably could have.

Salem’s Lot is a bonafide classic and pretty close to perfect. My only complaint about it is the running time. The film does feel a bit slow in parts but it was a two-part miniseries and had a lot of characters and subplots. In fact, those were all greatly trimmed down from the original novel and some characters were combined to simplify the story. But honestly, I’m still okay with the final result and I wouldn’t trim much, as almost every scene featuring the main characters feels necessary.

In the end, I love this movie; more so than I remembered. I’m glad that I revisited it after all these years and I feel like it’s a film that I will go back to fairly often now that I’ve been reminded as to just how damn good it is.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu remake, as well as other vampire films of the ’70s and 2000s Shadow of the Vampire.

TV Review: 11.22.63 (2016)

Original Run: February 15th, 2016 – April 4th, 2016
Created by: Bridget Carpenter
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: 11/22/63 by Stephen King
Music by: J. J. Abrams, Alex Heffes
Cast: James Franco, Sarah Gadon, Cherry Jones, Lucy Fry, George MacKay, Daniel Webber, T. R. Knight, Kevin J. O’Connor, Josh Duhamel, Chris Cooper, Annette O’Toole

Carpenter B., Bad Robot Productions, Warner Bros. Television, Hulu, 8 Episodes, 44-81 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I was actually pretty hyped to watch this when it was coming out, three years ago. However, my work life took a turn for the worse and I spent most of 2016 working about 70 hours per week and not having much time for anything else. I actually started this site later in that year when things started to stabilize again but by that point, this slipped down the memory hole.

However, I’ve been wanting to watch Stephen King’s Castle Rock on Hulu. So before getting into that, I wanted to go back and check this out, as it was King’s first Hulu collaboration.

The premise follows a man (James Franco), as he goes back in time to try and stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It’s an interesting premise but it does also seem that the protagonist does it really haphazardly, as messing with the timeline can have some unforeseen consequences and it does. In fact, it has grave consequences, which I think are supposed to surprise you but for fans of time travel stories, it really doesn’t. I kind of sighed and went, “Well, it’s not like this wasn’t an obvious result of his meddling.”

What’s interesting about this though, is that King explores the idea of time itself fighting back during the hero’s journey. It almost feels like horror at times but at the same time, the effect that time has in fighting back against changes seems inconsistent throughout the story. It is really only used where it is convenient to the plot in some way or just to remind you that time is its own master.

I had a problem with that aspect of the story and I felt like it was a wasted opportunity in a lot of ways. Cool concept, half assed execution.

But still, this was damn compelling television. You get drawn into this world, this character’s mission and you do fall in love with some of the characters.

The acting is superb and this is some of Franco’s best dramatic work. But the rest of the cast is also exceptional, especially the love interest, played by Sarah Gadon, the and the best friend/partner, played by George MacKay. But two real standouts were Daniel Webber as Lee Harvey Oswald and the evil son of a bitch that was brought to life by Josh Duhamel.

Overall, this was a solid political thriller with a time travel twist. While the time travel stuff was handled pretty willy-nilly, you get so caught up in the proceedings that it feels secondary.

Rating: 8.5/10

TV Review: Good Omens (2019)

Original Run: May 31st, 2019 – current
Created by: Neil Gaiman
Directed by: Douglas Mackinnon
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Based on: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Michael Sheen, David Tennant, Sam Taylor Buck, Adria Arjona, Michael McKean, Miranda Richardson, Jack Whitehall, Jon Hamm, Frances McDormand (voice), Nick Offerman, Mireille Enos, Brian Cox (voice), David Morrissey, Johnny Vegas, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)

Narrativia, The Blank Corporation, Amazon Studios, BBC Studios, 6 Episodes (so far), 51-58 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

When I first saw that Michael Sheen and David Tennant were in a show together, I knew I’d have to watch it. There was absolutely no doubt about that.

Then once I put it on and the episodes started rolling, I was really excited to see and hear Jon Hamm, Nick Offerman, Frances McDormand, Michael McKean, Miranda Richardson, Brian Cox, David Morrissey and Benedict Cumberbatch. We also got Mireille Enos in maybe her coolest role of all-time.

Needless to say, this six episode television show, which I hope lives on beyond one very short season, is chock full of immense talent. And that includes the cast members that are lesser known. Everyone on this show carries their weight and no one drags ass.

This was created by Neil Gaiman, based off of a novel he wrote almost thirty years ago with Terry Pratchett. I’ve never read the book but I might have to check it out now, based off of how cool this show is.

Now Good Omens isn’t perfect but I also don’t care that it’s not. It’s engaging, very, very human and it challenges its own subject matter, giving its audience hope for something more than the simple doom and gloom of an eventual biblical Armageddon. However, I’m an atheist but I know that most people aren’t and that some of what’s featured on this show is very real to them.

Sure, this is comedic, dramatic and fantastical but it exposes some of the very things that I’ve always questioned about the Christian mythos. As I was brought up very religiously, I had questions and doubts that I never felt got satisfactory answers and I was never really allowed to even have doubts or question the authority that dictated these things to me. So I’m glad that this show puts it all out there.

The production is stellar, the show looks great, its well acted, well written, has great pacing and good direction.

My only real concern is that I hope it can maintain its quality if this goes on for longer. But I also feel that it needs too. The story of this season is concluded within the six episodes but it opens the doors to a lot of new things going forward.

But since this seems to be a big hit for Amazon and the BBC, I’m pretty sure we’ll get new episodes of Good Omens for at least a few more years.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: What We Do In the Shadows, American Gods and Lucifer.