Documentary Review: Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (2017)

Also known as: Amazing Grace (Germany)
Release Date: September 7th, 2017 (TIFF)
Directed by: Sophie Fiennes
Music by: Grace Jones
Cast: Grace Jones

Blinder Films, Sligoville, Amoeba Film, 115 Minutes

Review:

After seeing the trailer, I was pretty excited to check this documentary out. I’ve always liked Grace Jones, as she’s always just been herself and doesn’t really seem to compromise her art, music or persona for anyone or anything.

Sadly, I was disappointed with what we got. But the main reason is that I had hoped that this would have been more of a biographical documentary about her life, her style, her films and her music.

What this is, is a concert movie where the performances are broken up by long clips of every day life stuff. But none of it is terribly interesting, as the cameras just role and you don’t always fully understand the context of what you’re watching.

It’s nice seeing Grace with her family in Jamaica, eating dinner, and seeing her work on her upcoming album. However, a lot of this is her having phone conversations, where you can’t here the other side of the line or her working through things with her music producer.

I enjoyed the music and a lot of it is very good. But ultimately, this falls pretty flat. While I’m interested in the music of Grace Jones, I’m much more captivated by the person and had hoped that this would bring me closer to knowing her.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Grace Jones: Slave to the Rhythm, Whiteny and David Bowie: The Last Five Years.

Film Review: Deathgasm (2015)

Also known as: Heavy Metal Apocalypse (US video box title)
Release Date: March 14th, 2015 (SXSW)
Directed by: Jason Lei Howden
Written by: Jason Lei Howden
Music by: Chris van de Geer, Joost Langeveld, various
Cast: Milo Cawthorne, James Blake, Kimberley Crossman, Sam Berkley, Daniel Cresswell

Metalheads, MPI Media Group, New Zealand Film Commission, Timpson Films, Dark Sky Films, 86 Minutes

Review:

“My Uncle Albert was balls-deep into Jesus. He thought Ricky Martin was heavy. He heard me cranking some Disemboweled Corpse and he hasn’t slept for days.” – Brodie

There aren’t enough heavy metal horror movies, which is a shame as the style of both of these great art forms seem like a perfect pairing. This is one of the few that aren’t terrible but at the same time, this isn’t fantastic either.

Still, it’s an enjoyable watch and most of the characters are likable and have good chemistry. The film also has some funny lines sprinkled throughout and the girl is super hot, which is important in metal and horror.

The downside to this New Zealand movie though, is that it borrows so heavily from its influences that it’s a bit too blatant. While many directors do this sort of thing (Zombie and Tarantino), it’s just never been a creative choice that plays to the strength of filmmaking. Homages are cool and a hat tip to your influences is nice but I prefer films that stand on their own and can be their own thing. This is sort of just a mish mash of its influences with the gore turned up to 11 (but not quite a 12 like Dead-Alive). At least when Tarantino does the same sort of thing, he still creates a film that has enough of its own identity. Rob Zombie, not so much.

But as far as the borrowing being too blatant, as I stated last paragraph, it might not be noticeable at all to younger film fans that haven’t watched 1986’s Trick or Treat a half dozen times. And maybe the writer/director Jason Lei Howden was banking on that. But old school horror fans will probably notice.

Anyway, I don’t want to sound like I’m shitting on the movie but it is worth a watch, once. Well, maybe a second time if you really liked it but I don’t see anyone calling Deathgasm a modern horror classic. That being said, it is still a better horror movie at its core than what is the norm for the genre over the past decade or two.

I didn’t have much urge to watch this and it actually floated around in my Netflix queue for a really long time until the service pulled it down after more than a year. But since this was featured on Joe Bob Brigg’s The Last Drive-In, I figured now was as good of a time as any to check it out.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: 1986’s Trick or TreatThe Gate, The Gate II: TrespassersBrainscan and Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare.

Documentary Review: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

Release Date: January 19th, 2018 (Sundance)
Directed by: Morgan Neville
Music by: Jonathan Kirkscey

Tremolo Productions, Focus Features, 93 Minutes

Review:

This was a highly lauded documentary when it came out at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. I heard about it almost immediately but I didn’t get to see it till now, as it is streaming through HBO, which I happen to have at the moment.

I grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood but then, what kid in America didn’t? But because of this, I always felt close to Fred Rogers. I mean, he was a part of my daily life during my developmental years and I continued to see him often, as younger kids in my family also grew up watching the show.

It was really nice seeing this, as it does take a real intimate look at the show and Fred Rogers, the man. This does a great job of being both a biography film of Rogers personal life, as well as a behind the scenes look at the show’s development, production and legacy.

I learned a lot about Rogers and who the man was. I, like most people, always wondered if he was a character or if he was just being himself. Now I have no doubts that the man we all grew up with was the authentic Fred Rogers.

The documentary gives a lot of speaking time for several people from Rogers’ professional and personal lives. All of them had nothing but love and admiration and while that may make the skeptic wonder as to whether this was just some sort of puff piece or not, I think that Rogers truly touched everyone around him.

I love showbiz documentaries but this was a rare gem in that it delved into a part of showbiz that isn’t really examined.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other recent biographical documentaries featured on HBO.

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.

Film Review: Captain EO (1986)

Also known as: Captain EO and the Space Knights (working title)
Release Date: September 12th, 1986 (Walt Disney World – Epcot Center, Florida)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: George Lucas, Rusty Lemorande, Francis Ford Coppola
Music by: James Horner, Michael Jackson
Cast: Michael Jackson, Anjelica Huston, Dick Shawn, Tony Cox, Debbie Lee Carrington, Cindy Sorenson, Gary DePew

Three D D D Productions, Eastman Kodak Company, Lucasfilm, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 17 Minutes

Review:

“Now listen, the command considers us a bunch of losers, but we’re gonna do it right this time because we’re the best. If not, we’ll be drummed out of the corps.” – Captain EO

Captain EO is a pretty bizarre short film but it wasn’t made to be viewed in a traditional sense or to even have a traditional narrative. It was made to be an attraction at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Being an attraction it had to be short enough to keep the asses moving in and out of seats.

It was also made to be 3D. While that was hardly a new concept in 1986, it was a concept that had sort of faded away and was somewhat new to a generation of ’80s kids that weren’t old enough to go to the theater to see things like Friday the 13th, Part III in 3D.

However, this was actually promoted as being the first film in “4D”, as it used special effects, lighting, smoke and lasers within the physical theater to enhance the overall viewing experience in the theme park.

The film does start out like a fantasy sci-fi space opera but quickly evolves into an extended music video for the Michael Jackson song “We Are Here to Change the World”. It also ends on another, more famous Jackson tune “Another Part of Me”.

Now this came out when Michael Jackson was literally the biggest thing in the world, so a partnership with Disney was huge in 1986. Add in the fact that this film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, written by George Lucas, whose Lucasfilm provided the effects, had costumes designed by the team behind Cats and had it’s makeup overseen by the legendary Rick Baker, this project was a pretty big f’n deal.

Also, James Horner, just coming off of his success with Star Trek II and III, provided the orchestral score for the film.

Production was a bit of a clusterfuck and the process took a lot of time with several different groups trying to fix some of the film’s issues but on screen, most of it came off well.

The narrative is pretty incomprehensible and you have to severely suspend disbelief when Captain EO uses dancing and singing to turn an evil space queen and her minions into nice people but when I was a kid, I totally bought into it and it worked. Seeing this again, as an adult, it’s a pretty wonky and strange narrative but I can’t deny the commanding presence that Michael Jackson has on screen. It’s not too dissimilar from his music video for “Thriller”.

Captain EO is a unique experience. It might not be a great one but it’s certainly interesting enough to sit through for just 17 minutes.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and lengthier music videos like Thriller and Ghosts.

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.

Comic Review: Dazzler, Issue #33 – Chiller!

Published: August, 1984
Written by: Michael Carlin
Art by: Mark Bright, Vince Colletta, Andy Yanchus, Bill Sienkiewicz (cover)

Marvel Comics, 22 Pages

Review:

I’ll be honest, I only ever wanted to buy this comic book because it has an incredible cover. It’s something I wanted to add to my collection just because of how badass it looks.

Well, now I do own it but I made the mistake of reading it.

Obviously, I wanted to enjoy this loose parody of Michael Jackson’s Thriller but it was barely a parody and read more like a really boring whodunit that was completely devoid of clarity, suspense or a reason to care.

This isn’t the standard for Marvel books of the ’80s. It’s simplistic, slow, utterly pointless and pretty damn strange but not in a good way.

Sure, there is a Vincent Price reference and even a character that is a complete ripoff of Thriller era Michael Jackson. Also, Dazzler finds herself acting in a music video very similar to Thriller but nothing in this excited me or brought me back to the magic of what Thriller was.

Additionally, Dazzler’s powers come off as incredibly lame in this, as she only taps into her light powers when she needs a flashlight. Well, okay… she did use her light blast to burst out of the grave but she spent the whole comic hiding her power from others and then uses them on a music video set, surrounded by dozens of people with no apparent repercussions.

The story wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t fun, had no energy and was duller than a plastic knife melted on a burner.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: I’m assuming other Dazzler comics from the era, as well as other solo X-Men books of the ’80s.