Documentary Review: No No: A Dockumentary (2014)

Release Date: January 20th, 2014 (Sundance Film Festival)
Directed by: Jeff Radice
Music by: DAdam Horovitz

Arts+Labor, 100 Minutes

NONO FINAL FILE

Review:

Many have heard the tale of Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis and how he pitched a no-hitter on LSD. Well, this documentary covers that game and also the career of one of baseball’s most enigmatic figures.

Dock Ellis was a guy who didn’t like the system and always used his voice to be a thorn in the establishment’s side. Whether it was the baseball establishment or the establishment of American society in the 60s and 70s.

He was also an avid drug user and alcoholic. He’s gone on to talk about how he never pitched sober and how it helped him deal with the fear he had in being in such a high pressure position on the grandest stage.

No No chronicles all of these things and also how his substance abuse issues affected those around him, whether it was his ex-wives or his teammates. The film also paints an amazing picture of baseball culture in Ellis’ day.

Most importantly however, the film shows how he hit rock bottom and turned his life around. In interviews with Ellis, he talks about how he has moved on from those darker days and used his experience to talk to other people with substance abuse issues.

It also sheds light on how he wasn’t proud of his LSD-fueled no-hitter.

The documentary interviews a lot of Ellis’ teammates and friends and even Ron Howard, who worked with Ellis on his film Gung Ho.

This is one of the best baseball documentaries to come out in recent years. It is definitely worth a viewing and is currently streaming on Netflix.

Documentary Review: Room 237 (2012)

Release Date: January 23rd, 2012 (Sundance)
Directed by: Rodney Ascher
Music by: Jonathan Snipes, William Hutson, The Caretaker, Wendy Carlos, Rachel Elkind

IFC Films, IFC Midnight, 102 Minutes

Review:

If you are a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, you will probably be pretty interested in this film.

Room 237 is a pretty meaty documentary about the hidden messages and imagery within The Shining.

You see, some people believe that Kubrick’s films all had hidden meanings and messages. Being that this is his most horrifying film, I guess it was the one that has generated the most theories and obsessive-compulsive analysis.

This documentary could be a journey into madness.

What I mean by that, is that this film allows five different “intellectual” types go on rants about all their theories and “discoveries” in this film. Some theories seem pretty plausible but most do not. Then there are those that go so far off of the deep end that it is hard taking any of this too seriously. One guy goes on a rant about how Kubrick used this film to cleanse his soul from the guilt he felt after the government supposedly used him to fake the moon landing.

This film is full of a lot of bullshit and unfortunately, in all these shared theories by people’s whose faces we never see on camera, no one offers up any real evidence. Everything we are presented with is just the speculation of people who have obsessed over this film for decades. If you stare at something long enough, you can start to make connections to anything you want. It’s like people who read Nostradamus’ bullshit cryptic poetry and think that he predicted the Holocaust and 9/11. In fact, I almost feel like Alex Jones woke up one day and decided to make a conspiracy film about The Shining.

The thing is, despite my criticisms, I still really liked this movie. While many theories were way over the top, this film was still entertaining as hell to someone who has watched The Shining almost annually and who suffers from a mild form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I then saw my own “hidden message”. I saw that the people talking in this film, were actually symbolically stuck in Room 237. They became too fixated on all of this and walked into the room where you aren’t supposed to go. Now they sit in there, obsessed and haunted over things they can’t understand but have to decipher: trapped by an almost supernatural power that fuels their obsession and steals their sanity. And maybe that is the point of this film.

I think that this is a film worth watching if you are a Kubrick fan or just like conspiracy theories.

When questioned about this film recently, Stephen King referred to it as “academic bullshit.” I don’t really disagree with him but it is academic bullshit that is fun to watch.

Documentary Review: Document of the Dead (2012)

Release Date: November 13th, 2012
Directed by: Roy Frumkes
Music by: Rick Ulfik

Synapse Films, 66 Minutes (1979 cut), 85 Minutes (1989 cut), 102 Minutes (2012 cut)

Review:

Document of the Dead is a documentary that has been released at three different times, as it has been updated and expanded throughout the years.

Initially, it was about the making of Goerge A. Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead. Since then, it has looked behind the scenes at some of his other films, as well as checked in with the man and those close to him from 1978 up through 2006.

It is a sort of disjointed documentary, as the additions are very apparent in a way that distracts from the narrative. Also, the documentary jumps around a lot. It is entertaining and informative but it is a mess too.

I am reviewing the 2012 version, the final one released, so I can’t really say if the earlier versions, especially the 1979 original version, were more coherent. Anyway, it is the 1979 material that is the most compelling anyway.

Some of the cool things in this are seeing Tom Savini put the makeup on the Dawn of the Dead zombies, as well as his stunt work. Also, just seeing the behind the scenes stuff is cool, especially on an old school movie like this where DVD extras were still twenty years away.

Document of the Dead, while not a great documentary, is still a cool look into the world of Romero from a filmmaking point-of-view. For fans of Romero’s Dead series, it is certainly worth checking out.

Documentary Review: Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Release Date: August 12th, 2014
Directed by: Randall Lobb
Music by: Matthew Hussey

FauxPop Media, iProductions, Paramount Home Media Distribution, 98 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

With the recent release of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, someone was awesome enough to do a documentary about the entire franchise from its beginning up until now.

This was a really enjoyable and engaging film. It went back and showed how Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird met each other and how they came up with the idea for the Ninja Turtles. That alone is an interesting story in and of itself.

The film then goes into how they created and distributed the first comic and how it quickly became a hit, as they had to keep making more to supply the fans. Within a few short years, there was a toy deal, a television deal and a movie deal. All of these things proved to be successful and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became one of the biggest franchises in history, which is still incredibly loved and profitable today.

The movie interviews almost everyone who was ever involved with the Turtles. It was cool seeing Judith Hoag now, talking about her role as April O’Neil in the 1990 film. I kind of wish they would have interviewed Elias Koteas too. Who knows, maybe he wasn’t available.

The coolest interviews section of the film though, was when they talked to the cast of the original cartoon. James Avery a.k.a. Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, who played Shredder in the cartoon, still showed so much passion and love for the Turtles franchise. Being that he recently passed away, it was nice seeing this and knowing that he didn’t just see Turtles as some gig to pay his bills but as a really awesome project that he was delighted to work on that he felt was comparable to Shakespeare.

If you are or have ever been a Turtles fan, this is definitely a documentary that you should check out.

Documentary Review: Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008)

Release Date: January 20th, 2008 (Sundance Film Festival)
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Music by: David Schwartz
Narrated by: Johnny Depp

BBC Storyville, Diverse Productions, HDNet Films, 118 Minutes

Review:

There have been a lot of documentaries made about Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. In my estimation, this one is the best. None of them are bad, per se, but this one really delves into the man and gives real insight to his life and career.

Additionally, this film talks to his ex-wife, his widow and his son, as well as close friends and colleagues. The cast of interviewees is much more intimate than any other Hunter S. Thompson documentary out there.

Johnny Depp gives us the narration and he does a more than fantastic job. In fact, Depp gives it a sense of authenticity being that he played Thompson in the film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. And frankly, I can’t think of anyone more perfect than Depp for this task – except maybe Bill Murray, who also played Thompson.

If you are a fan of Thompson’s work but don’t know his story and really how insane and eccentric he was, this film is a must view. Luckily for you Netflix subscribers, it is usually streaming on there. Sometimes it disappears but it always seems to come back. So go watch this and then watch Where The Buffalo Roam with Bill Murray. Have yourselves a Gonzo day.

Documentary Review: VHS Massacre: Cult Films and the Decline of Physical Media (2016)

Release Date: June 20th, 2016
Directed by: Kenneth Powell, Thomas Edward Seymour
Music by: Tim Kulig

New York Cine Productions, 72 Minutes

Review:

Any documentary that features an interview with Joe Bob Briggs is obviously a film made by people that know what the hell they are doing. This thing also gets some insight from Lloyd Kaufman (Troma Entertainment), Greg Sestero (The Room), Debbie Rochon (Return to Nuke ‘Em High), Deborah Reed (Troll 2), Mark Frazer (Samurai Cop), James Nguyen (Birdemic) and many others. Needless to say, this documentary has a friggin’ all-star cast.

The movie itself analyzes the history and appreciation for the VHS format. It also goes on to talk about cult films and how they were helped by VHS and mom and pop video stores. It looks at modern times, where physical media is dying and how that will effect the art of independent filmmaking.

VHS Massacre is a cool documentary, especially for those of us who were really into spending hours walking the aisles of every mom and pop video store, looking for diamonds in the rough and then just settling on every piece of cinematic schlock we could watch within the 24-to-48 hour rental window.

If you want to remember what it was like, back in the day, before Blockbuster killed everything and then Netflix killed Blockbuster, then this is a documentary that is worth your time.

In the end, I just miss walking the aisles and staring at video cassette box art for hours on end while my mum was getting her nails done by the Koreans next door.

Documentary Review: Going Attractions – The Definitive Story of the American Drive-in Movie (2013)

Release Date: June 6th, 2013
Directed by: April Wright

85 Minutes

Review:

Going Attractions – The Definitive Story of the American Drive-in Movie is a pretty good piece about the history of drive-in theaters in the United States but I do have one bone to pick with it. How can you make a movie about drive-in theaters and not interview Joe Bob Briggs? He was the American hero of the drive-in connoisseur in the 1980s. He is a guy that has seen everything and had a passion unrivaled by any other critic or writer I have ever come across. But then, this film does feature Roger Corman who Joe Bob coined “The King of the Drive-In”, so that does set me at ease a bit.

I have seen small documentaries about the history of the drive-in theater. However, never have I seen something as well put together and as extensive as this film.

April Wright, the director, did a pretty fine job of taking the audience through history, looking at each decade or era and showcasing technological innovations and just the general evolution of the drive-in theater industry. It also discusses cultural shifts and how things came along to sort of disrupt the growth and popularity of the drive-in.

Going Attractions does talk to a lot of experts, historians and drive-in fans. The interviews are made up of a lot of personal stories and experiences but they help paint the picture really well.

It is unfortunate that very few drive-ins exist anymore. Where I live, I have to drive about three hours before I even get to one and that’s a “family friendly” one. Honestly, I haven’t seen a film at the drive-in since the mid-1990s. I wish it were something that was still commonplace.