Documentary Review: Atari: Game Over (2014)

Release Date: November 20th, 2014
Directed by: Zak Penn
Music by: Stephen Endelman

Fuel Entertainment USA, GRAiNEY Pictures, Lightbox, 66 Minutes

Review:

Atari: Game Over is an engaging enough documentary for those who loved playing the various Atari systems before Nintendo came along in the mid-80s.

This documentary follows two narrative paths that weave together.

Initially, it talks about the history of Atari and how it rose to power and then pretty much disappeared. Secondly, it discusses the E.T. game, which many consider to be the worst game ever made. It isn’t the worst game ever made but it seemed to become the scapegoat for Atari’s misfortune. Also, a massive stock of E.T. game cartridges were dumped in a desert landfill and have since become some sort of legendary pop culture treasure, waiting to be unearthed.

Zak Penn takes us on a journey through the history of Atari, while being present for the massive excavation of the landfill, in an effort to see if the game cartridges are actually there. I don’t want to spoil the ending.

Unfortunately, this is a rather short documentary and to be honest, I’d be more interested in a film that tells the Atari story in much more detail than being constantly sidetracked back over to the landfill. While the discovery of the buried E.T. cartridges is sort of the point of this film, it just isn’t as interesting as the Atari story, overall.

Also, the film paints a picture that the video game industry completely crashed and that Atari disappeared and it leaves it like there was some big massive void in the universe. The reality is that Nintendo came along, as did Sega and many other companies. Market share shifted and Atari was no longer a monopoly. Their systems couldn’t compete with Nintendo and Sega and they dwindled away. Consumers ate up Nintendo and were much happier with it. That’s the reality. Also, Atari didn’t just go away, they still made games and had to alter their business model. Atari still exists today.

Atari: Game Over was sloppy and left you grasping for straws. It was enjoyable for its good bits but I felt that it was sort of dishonest and more focused on legends than truth.

Documentary Review: Back In Time (2015)

Release Date: October 21st, 2015
Directed by: Jason Aron
Music by: Allen Calmes, G.C. Johnson

Malka Media Group, Jason Aron Media, Patchwork Media, FilmRise, 95 Minutes

Review:

There is an old adage that says, “If you don’t love Back to the Future, you must be a horrible person.” Okay, so maybe I made that up but that’s pretty much how I feel about it.

Back In Time is a documentary about the film and its huge cultural impact. It came out just in time for Back to the Future‘s 30th anniversary.

While not as amazing as I had hoped, it does interview a lot of the people involved in the production and creation of the film series. It talks to Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, Steven Spielberg, Huey Lewis and actors Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and others.

Unfortunately, Thomas F. Wilson and Crispin Glover weren’t in this documentary. It would have been really cool to hear their insight and how the film has effected them over the years. Glover, especially, due to how he left the film series and ended up suing over the use of his likeness, forever changing how business is done in Hollywood. While his actions left a bad taste in the mouths of many involved, enough time has passed, one would hope, to where he could have talked about the experience.

Back In Time talks a lot about the films themselves but it really showcases the fandom that has grown since the first one came out three decades earlier. It also interviews other notable people in the entertainment industry who were influenced by the Back to the Future franchise.

If you love the film series and have some time to kill, this documentary is worth a watch. There is nothing vital here but it is cool seeing those involved with it, reflect on it. It is also nice to see how it has captivated so many people since its release.

Documentary Review: Nintendo Quest (2015)

Release Date: June 26th, 2015
Directed by: Rob McCallum
Music by: John H. McCarthy

Pyre Productions USA, Canamedia, 92 Minutes

Review:

Nintendo Quest was a documentary that followed one man’s quest to acquire all the classic Nintendo Entertainment System titles in thirty days or less. He had a limited budget and couldn’t use the Internet. He had to travel abroad, visit stores and private sellers in an effort to complete his goal. For the record, there are 678 classic Nintendo games.

The film is a labor of love between two friends, the director and Jay, his best friend and the guy trying to collect the games.

This is not a compelling or great documentary but it is at least fun and interesting to anyone who had a love for the original Nintendo system, which is really any kid from the 1980s and 1990s.

Nintendo Quest is a very nostalgic journey through history, as it showcases Jay trying to get every single title and it talks about a lot of the classic games and puts a lot of emphasis on the real rarities out there.

I don’t think that there is a lot here for non-Nintendo fans but it also wasn’t made for anyone but the old school Nintendo heads who know these titles and want to reminisce about them through Jay’s journey. That doesn’t make this a bad documentary but also doesn’t make this a good one either. It sort of exists in limbo.

 

 

Documentary Review: Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s the Fantastic Four (2015)

Release Date: July 10th, 2015 (Comic-Con International: San Diego – premiere)
Directed by: Marty Langford
Music by: Davis Horgan

Uncork’d Entertainment, 85 Minutes

Review:

The Fantastic Four franchise has never really produced anything great from a cinematic standpoint. The mid 00s films were mediocre and the recent 2015 attempt was one of the worst comic book movies ever made. But there was also an attempt that predates all of those films: the 1994 Roger Corman produced Fantastic Four film.

The reason why most people don’t know about this film is because it was never officially released. In fact, the movie was made on a tiny budget and rushed, just so that the studio who owned the rights could still hold onto those rights. It was made cheaply and quickly and those behind it, felt they were horribly duped and that their efforts were wasted.

Since that time, the film has circulated in a bootleg form at comic book conventions and on the Internet. Many people have seen it now but it is still a strange enigma and despite its limitations, is considered to be the most accurate portrayal of the Fantastic Four comics.

This documentary tells the story about the film from the perspective of the filmmakers and actors involved. It is a pretty good film and the interviews are all satisfying and engaging. Everyone involved seemed to really love making the picture even if they had some reservations about certain aspects of it. Ultimately, they were all trying to do their best and saw the picture as a turning point in their careers. Unfortunately, the public never got to see it theatrically and it didn’t become the launching pad that many of the people involved in its development had hoped.

I’ve never seen the film but it has been on my radar for a long time and I’ll probably check it out now, much sooner than later. I actually like some of the people in the cast due to their work in other projects.

If you are one of the rare fans of this film, then the documentary will probably make you happy. It’s nice seeing most of these people still feeling a sense of accomplishment and showing enthusiasm, even if they were conned into a dead project that was never to be released.

Documentary Review: GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (2012)

Release Date: April 27th, 2012 (Hot Docs International Documentary Festival)
Directed by: Brett Whitcomb
Music by: Dwayne Cathey, Bradford Thomason

Connell Creations, Window Pictures, Woodcreek Faction Productions, 76 Minutes

Review:

*originally written in 2014.

I barely remember GLOW (or The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) from my childhood in the 80s but I would check it out from time to time when I wasn’t watching WWF or the NWA.

GLOW was a third alternative for professional wrestling and featured only women performers. It made history, as the promotion was the first and still the only wrestling company just to feature women. I remember thinking of it as a lot more low budget and way more hokey than the male dominated competition but I do remember that I enjoyed it nonetheless. So it was interesting when I saw a documentary about GLOW on Netflix.

Delving into the stories and lives of these women was entertaining, as many had great stories and tales to share. Also seeing the background story on the how and why GLOW came together was also really interesting. It made me respect the product for what it was, considering how it was built up.

I was also a bit taken aback by the fact that none of these ladies really had any formal training in wrestling before going into this. The match quality of GLOW was more than questionable but at least they could draw one’s attention away from that with their vaudeville like show.

To any fans of wrestling or fans of old school trashy television, this is definitely worth a watch.

In the end, it was nice seeing the girls come back together years later and reunite.

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.