Documentary Review: Funhouse (1997)

Release Date: 1997

Discovery Channel, 44 Minutes

Review:

I remember seeing this on the Discovery Channel when it was new. It always stuck with me and after becoming a fan of the YouTube channels Defunctland and Yesterworld, I wanted to try and track this down to revisit.

Sadly, there is no information about it online. There isn’t even an IMDb page. As I like to list the credits for everything I review, it sucks that I can’t give the proper people the credit they deserve for this cool little documentary that has stuck with me for 22 years.

Seeing it now, it was still a lot of fun and the real high point is where it showcases local, lesser known theme parks throughout the country. The two main ones that we get a peek at here are Bushkill Park and Kennywood, both from Pennsylvania.

What’s extra special about seeing this now, is that since this documentary, Bushkill Park has fallen into disrepair and doesn’t function as a full park anymore. There have been attempts at fixing it but the iconic rides of the past no longer function and have been wrecked by flooding and vandalism. But at the time of this documentary’s production, we got to see a lot of the old attractions in their mostly full glory.

This also goes into the technological advances that Universal Studios and Disney World were bringing into the theme park industry at the time. Some of the “new” rides featured here no longer exist or have evolved but this was a cool time capsule that looks into what was cutting edge in the ’90s.

If you like theme parks and their history, this is a fun watch. I put the whole documentary below and it even has the commercials left in, so its like a real ’90s TV time capsule.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the YouTube channels Defunctland and Yesterworld.

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

Film Review: The Chair (2016)

Release Date: October 8th, 2016 (Northeast Wisconsin Horror Festival)
Directed by: Chad Ferrin
Written by: Erin Kohut, Peter Simeti
Based on: The Chair by Peter Simeti
Music by: Douglas Edward
Cast: Bill Oberst Jr., Roddy Piper, Noah Hathaway, Zach Galligan, Naomi Grossman, Ezra Buzzington, Joseph Pilato, Joe Laurinaitis

Alterna Comics, Crappy World Films, Girls and Corpses Magazine, 84 Minutes

Review:

This has been in my queue for a really long time. I kept putting it off because I was afraid I would be disappointed by it. Well, those concerns were valid, as I was.

I wanted to go into this with high hopes, as it was Roddy Piper’s last movie and also featured Noah Hathaway and Zach Galligan, two guys that made 1984 a great year for my young imagination. Additionally, this was based on Peter Simeti’s graphic novel that he released through his own comic company Alterna.

Simeti has always come off as a great guy and I like the vast majority of the comics he publishes. Especially in an age where more comics than not are kind of shit.

But in the end, this was a mess of a film that was really hindered by its budget. While you can do a lot for very little, this movie sacrifices the atmosphere by really cheaping out on it. And what I mean by that is that the whole thing looks as if it were filmed in one or two corridors with a few different rooms. And then everything is so damn dark, its hard to see the film in most shots.

Now the comic book is also very dark but the visual style works well in the comic book medium, as it takes advantage of a high chiaroscuro presentation. Even the comic is hard to look at due to the overly gritty art but it works for this story. In this film, however, the style and the character of what exists in the comic is lost in the constant darkness. Really, it’s a poorly lit film but that’s only one of many technical issues that hinders the whole presentation.

The acting by the more veteran players isn’t actually half bad. Piper does a pretty superb job with what he’s given and I can’t knock his work here.

Apart from Piper, though, the film is just insanely dull. It was really hard to get through, especially with the comic as a frame of reference and being a fan of four of the actors in the picture.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: the graphic novel it’s based on but I thought the comic was much better.

Video Game Review: Mercs (Arcade)

As I’m trying to get the most out of my RetroPie’s MAME section, I wanted to revisit another classic arcade game that I used to play the shit out of but haven’t touched in almost thirty years.

Mercs took a lot of my hard earned money when I was in sixth grade. They put one in at the arcade next to the chicken wing spot my family would go to. I’d always run next door and then baffle my mother when I’d come back ten minutes later, already depleted of the five bucks she gave me.

I actually liked this game so much that I ended up getting it a year or two later on the Sega Genesis. However, the arcade version is still the superior one.

This takes the side scrolling beat’em up gaming style and makes it a shooter that actually scrolls from bottom to top as you move up the level, blowing up everything from shacks, tanks, jeeps and human beings trying to shoot you first.

It’s highly energetic and just a badass experience.

For fans of the Ikari Warriors games or Commando, this is basically more of the same but for lack of a better term, this is like those games on steroids.

It’s also not too long where Ikari Warriors felt like it went for friggin’ weeks.

This has solid graphics, smooth gameplay and you can kick its ass in about a half hour. Granted, it’s good that I can play it without quarters now, as my playthrough probably would’ve cost me the same as a down payment on a Kia Sorento.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other button mashing arcade shooters of the late ’80s/early ’90s.

Comic Review: Captain America: Winter Soldier, Vol. 2

Published: October 11th, 2006
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Steve Epting, Michael Lark, Mike Perkins

Marvel Comics, 136 Pages

Review:

This was a pretty good second half to the original Winter Soldier story. I liked the first half a bit more though. But I think that’s because reading this lacked tension, as I knew that Winter Soldier was actually Bucky and that he’d come around and start to see the light.

That lack of tension is my fault for taking so long to read this story. It’s certainly not Brubaker’s fault and I’m sure this was tense as hell for those that read it for the first time in 2006 without any knowledge of the Winter Soldier character.

I like that Brubaker does spend a good amount of time flashbacking to World War II and the Invaders era. The context was nice and the parallels between Cap and Bucky’s lives then and now was well done.

This story also adds in Falcon and Iron Man, which obviously influenced the MCU films that saw these two characters chime in on Cap’s relationship with Winter Soldier.

Like the previous volume, the art was really good and Brubaker truly benefits from having solid artists on his Captain America books, as they definitely enhance the atmosphere and tone of the plot in the right way.

For Cap fans who haven’t read the Brubaker run, you’re doing yourselves a disservice. Hell, for fans of just the movies, this is definitely worth checking out just to understand the depth of these characters’ bond.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run.

Film Review: The Human Duplicators (1965)

Also known as: Jaws of the Alien (video title), Space Agent K1 (Germany)
Release Date: March 3rd, 1965
Directed by: Hugo Grimaldi
Written by: Arthur C. Pierce
Music by: Gordon Zahler
Cast: George Nader, Dolores Faith, George Macready, Barbara Nichols, Richard Arlen, Richard Kiel, Hugh Beaumont

Hugo Grimaldi Film Productions, Woolner Brothers Pictures Inc., 100 Minutes, 80 Minutes (cut)

Review:

I’ve had a lot of good luck lately with watching and reviewing films from classic episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. What I mean by that, is that the last few films were actually enjoyable and not total poop.

The Human Duplicators, on the other hand, is a return to form for what is the quality of the typical film riffed on MST3K.

At least this one has a cool poster, though. Also, it was trippy as hell in some parts and it featured Richard Kiel, most famous for playing Jaws in the James Bond franchise but also seen in another MST3K featured film, Eegah.

The premise is about a bunch of aliens that clone humans. I mean, I guess the film’s title gives the cloning thing away. But other than the general premise, this is such a mess of a film that it’s hard to pay attention to the shoddy details.

The acting is terrible, as is the direction and the general look of this picture. At least, as far as the cinematography and lighting go. Although, some of the sets were imaginative but that’s probably due to their trippiness and because I was on edibles while watching this. But don’t be fooled, the sets still look like they’re cheaper than a Huddle House hooker in Starke, Florida.

In the end, I can’t recommend this movie but I did enjoy it enough with Joel and the ‘Bots making fun of it.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: other bottom of the barrel schlock that owes its continued existence to Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Book Review: LIFE: Film Noir: 75 Years of the Greatest Crime Films

While this was technically released in a magazine format, it’s written more like a book, is devoid of ads and I read it on my kindle. Also, I want to read more specialty magazines like this for review purposes but since there are only a few I have, at the moment, I’ll categorize them with books for now.

This one looks at film-noir throughout history. It’s really broken into two sections: one that deals specifically with classic film-noir and then a latter section that deals with neo-noir, showing the effects and influence that classic noir had on later motion pictures.

The films selected here are all pretty top notch pictures in the genre. I thought it a bit odd that Sunset Boulevard was omitted but this magazine did seem to put its focus more on noir that were primarily crime dramas. But not really mentioning the impact of that film, as well as the influence of Citizen Kane, as far as style goes, seemed off. Especially when this does mention the stylistic influences it took from German Expressionism.

But I’m not going to gripe about those films not really being on the radar of the staff that put this together.

I think that this would have been a better and much richer read had it been put into something larger than a magazine. I blew through this in an hour and while I liked reading about the films discussed here, each chapter was pretty damn short. But I also get that this is more of a crash course and primer on noir movies than a full semester at film school.

The best part wasn’t even the write ups about the films, though. It was actually a lot of the captions that came with all the photos thrown in here. I learned more new information that way than from the film write ups themselves.

Reading this was a breeze but frankly, it left me wanting more… a lot more. But there are several great books on film-noir that give you a lot more meat and potatoes.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other books on film-noir: Into the Dark, Film Noir FAQ and The Dark Side of the Screen.