Documentary Review: The Social Dilemma (2020)

Release Date: January 26th, 2020 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jeff Orlowski
Written by: Davis Coombe, Vickie Curtis, Jeff Orlowski
Music by: Mark A. Crawford
Cast: Interviewees: Tristan Harris, Aza Raskin, Justin Rosenstein, Shoshana Zuboff, Jaron Lanier, Tim Kendall, Rashida Richardson, Renee DiResta, Anna Lembke, Roger McNamee, Guillaume Chaslot; Performances: Skyler Gisondo, Kara Hayward, Vincent Kartheiser, Sophia Hammons, Catalina Garayoa, Barbara Gehring, Chris Grundy

Exposure Labs, Argent Pictures, The Space Program, Netflix, 94 Minutes

Review:

“How do you wake up from the Matrix when you don’t know you’re in the Matrix?” – Self – Google, Former Design Ethicist

I watched this based off of a recommendation and honestly, I probably wouldn’t have, otherwise. I’m glad I did though, as it was really refreshing seeing some of the people who were instrumental in developing social media, kind of condemning certain parts of it, as it’s now being used in a way to create an addiction to it and to further divide the people using it.

Initially, it was created to bring people together, where they could interact with one another, all over the world. Where they could share ideas and more or less, come together in a positive, constructive way in an effort to shape a better planet.

In the last decade or so, all of that has started to take a turn for the worse.

This film breaks down how this happened and how it all works. Frankly, it’s kind of scary but it’s also not like most of us sane, rational people aren’t aware of it. There’s a reason why I stopped using Facebook, only occasionally touch Instagram and pretty much just use Twitter to promote this site and then shitpost.

This also has some bits in it where actors play characters being affected by all of this. It’s used to illustrate in an interesting way how social media can destroy relationships and human interaction. It also shows how these apps work and why they hone in on our different triggers to sell products and to keep us engaging with the app.

I can’t say that anything here was new information but it’s refreshing seeing the architects of the problem try to combat it and bring more awareness to it.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other recent tech documentaries.

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.

Documentary Review: They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018)

Release Date: August 30th, 2018 (Venice premiere)
Directed by: Morgan Neville
Music by: Daniel Wohl
Cast: Orson Welles (archive footage), Alan Cumming (host, narrator), Peter Bogdanovich, Oja Kodar, Peter Jason, Cybill Shepherd, Frank Marshall, Beatrice Welles, John Huston (archive footage), Dennis Hopper (archive footage) 

Tremolo Productions, Royal Road Entertainment, Netflix, 98 Minutes

Review:

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead is a pretty fascinating documentary but then Orson Welles, the film’s subject, is an immensely fascinating guy.

This tells the story of Welles’ attempt at trying to complete what would have been his final film: The Other Side of the Wind. However, the picture, despite Welles’ best efforts and years spent filming footage, would not see the light of day.

Beyond that, this explores why it never materialized into a final, complete form. It looks at Welles’ rocky relationship with the Hollywood elite but also shows how passionate he was about the project, which seemed to be ever evolving and not something that had any sort of definitive framework.

More than anything, this was a great documentary simply because it showed us an intimate look into Welles’ life and career at its final stages. He was a lovable, charismatic guy that remained somewhat enigmatic till the end.

It’s also worth seeing for any Welles’ fan, as it does show a lot of the footage that was filmed for The Other Side of the Wind. And even if you don’t get a clear understanding of what the film was to be, you do at least come to understand, as much as a mortal can, Welles’ creative process and motivation in making it.

This is a stupendous documentary film on the man and his brand of filmmaking. And since it is on Netflix, those with the streaming service should probably check it out.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on Orson Welles and filmmaking from his era.

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: The Witcher (2019- )

Original Run: December 20th, 2019 – current
Created by: Lauren Schmidt Hissrich
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Witcher novels by Andrzej Sapkowski
Music by: Sonya Belousova, Giona Ostinelli
Cast: Henry Cavill, Freya Allan, Eamon Farren, Anya Chalotra, Joey Batey, MyAnna Buring, Royce Pierreson, Mimi Ndiweni, Wilson Radjou-Pujalte, Anna Shaffer, Mahesh Jadu

Netflix, Pioneer Stilking Films, Platige Image, Sean Daniel Company, One of Us, Cinesite, 8 Episodes (so far), 47-67 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

As someone who has never read any of The Witcher books or played any of the video games, I went into this pretty blindly. But I really wanted a dark fantasy television show that worked for me, as I was never a fan of Game of Thrones but have always loved the genre apart from that show. Also, I like Henry Cavill and he seemed pretty excited for the world to finally see this.

I wasn’t too keen on the first episode, I thought it was alright and I might not have watched beyond that if the first season wasn’t a short run of just eight episodes. But I’m glad I did because about midway through, everything sort of clicked and I ended up enjoying this quite a bit.

The show starts off with a weird pace, as different characters exist in different timelines. That’s not made clear until episode four or so but once you come to that realization, things flow better.

I thought that the world created for the show was pretty cool. The environment changes quite a bit as they travel and it doesn’t feel like it’s stuck in the same place.

The acting is superb, especially the scenes that feature Henry Cavill. However, Anya Chalotra steals just about every scene that she is in, which is impressive as she doesn’t have a whole lot of screen experience and frankly, I didn’t know who she was before this.

It’s hard to say how good this will be going forward but the first season does a good job of setting up the universe for these characters to play in. Plus, it’s made me want to try out one of the games.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other fantasy action television shows. Some would say Game of Thrones but I never liked that show and this is superior.

Comic Review: Stranger Things: Six

Published: May 29th, 2019 – August 28th, 2019
Written by: Jody Houser
Art by: Edgar Salazar, Keith Champagne, Marissa Louise, Aleksi Briclot (covers)
Based on: Stranger Things by The Duffer Brothers

Dark Horse Books, 98 Pages

Review:

I was pretty happy with the first Stranger Things comic miniseries. With this second attempt at making a comic book tie-in, I still left pretty satisfied. However, this one lacks slightly in that I didn’t feel as connected to the characters or their personal peril.

In the first miniseries, we got to follow Will Byers, as he was trapped in the Upsidedown during the events in season one. It gave us Will’s perspective and the horror he lived through, which we weren’t able to really see on the television show.

This comic follows a new character named Six. She is like Eleven in that she has grown up in the same lab and mostly just has Dr. Martin Brenner as her only parental type of figure.

The story is a prequel, as it shows some of what happened in the lab before Eleven’s story really started for the television audience. Although, you do get to see glimpses of a very young Eleven even though her story isn’t central to the main plot of this arc.

My only real issue with this miniseries, is that it is less engaging overall because it doesn’t directly tie to the larger story. Sure, it happens within the show’s universe but it’s basically just Six’s story and she isn’t someone that we will meet on the show. And I’ve kind of mentally put the Brenner character to bed, unless there is going to be more of him in the future. Although, I’m not sure how that would work.

I prefer the approach of the first comic series. I think that these should be tied more directly to the show and give us other perspectives or events that happen parallel to what we already know. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have wholly original stories with new characters. It all just depends on how well the comic book part of the mythos develops.

So far, I’m pretty happy with what Dark Horse, specifically Jody Houser, have been doing with the IP.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the previous Stranger Things comic book miniseries, as well as the show and mobile RPG game.