Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)


Directed by: Kurt Kuenne (I’d say he’s a mostly amateur filmmaker, though I hope he achieves some measure of success after watching this film)

Written by: Kuenne

Starring: Documentaries rarely “star” people, and in the case of Dear Zachary, there are no famous people at all

What it’s about: a documentary detailing the shocking and appalling events that took place after the murder of Andrew Bagby

What I liked: It felt like a movie that was made with passion, and not just loving passion, but justifiable raging passion.  When you see a movie like this, hopefully you don’t wonder why I get so angry about stuff that Hollywood directors shit out.  This is a documentary that defiantly has an agenda, and unlike a Michael Moore-directed doc, the facts are all easily researchable and impossible to deny.  I don’t like saying that “I liked” how surprising the story was, because holy shit, no, it is positively devastating to watch these events unfold.

What I disliked: There were some technical issues that I didn’t really appreciate, such as the occasional instances where a virtual cacophony of voices were speaking at once and while I do appreciate the artistic intention, it didn’t do much for me.  That is all, oh except for the fact that I am horrified and goddamn embarrassed about the judicial system in my country.

Would I recommend it to anyone?: Yes, but it is a movie you probably won’t ever want to watch again.

Rating: 4 / 5

Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

I liked the usage of a guitar on the Once poster better.

I liked the usage of a guitar on the Once poster better.

Directed by: Malik Bendjelloul (his first film ever)

Written by: Bendejelloul as well

Starring: Documentaries don’t so much “star” people as they feature them

What it’s about: a documentary exploring the mystery behind an obscure American musician whose albums achieved great fame in South Africa

What I liked: This is a beautiful, powerful movie, featuring one of those amazing real-life stories that are nearly too good to be true.  Bendjelloul cobbled together some truly great footage of Sixto Rodriguez.  I want to say more about the film, but revealing almost anything about the plot can potentially spoil some truly delightful things that you would discover by watching the actual movie.  The soundtrack – comprised of Rodriguez’ music – is amazing, and appears to have much in common with the music I enjoy nowadays.  I haven’t seen any of the other movies that were nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar, but this was definitely a deserving winner.

What I disliked: There were several instances of confusing footage choices (maybe just to me?) interspersing with other footage, but whatever, doesn’t hurt the overall movie.  It also bothered me that it was a documentary of an event that seemingly took place 15 years ago or so, but the tense of the interview questions seems to be misrepresented.  It’s hard to explain.

Would I recommend it to anyone?: Certainly, it is an engaging story, and a beautiful documentary and if it ends up with more people hearing the music of Sixto Rodriguez, everyone is the better for it.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Sixto Rodriguez in an old publicity photo.

Sixto Rodriguez in an old publicity photo.

Unauthorized: The Harvey Weinstein Project (2011)

Don’t really have much to say about this documentary.  Directed by Barry Avrich, it tells the story of Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein and his meteoric rise in the movie industry.  It doesn’t go into too much depth, just painting Harvey’s character with broad strokes, while also highlighting how much of a Midas touch he seemed to have.  Unquestionably, Harvey changed not just the independent movie industry, but the entire movie industry.  Some may argue for the better, some for the worse.  He basically made an industry out of currying Oscar nominations, and the doc was interesting, though not particularly eye-opening.

3 / 5

Beyond the Mat (1999)

Yesterday’s review of The Wrestler made mention of how wholly depressing of a movie it is, no matter how celebratory some of the events in it were portrayed.  It made mention of how fairly accurate it was in capturing the fates of some wrestlers after their time in the limelight has died down.  Now, try to imagine how depressing an actual documentary of professional wrestling would be, oh wait, don’t imagine because director Barry W. Blaustein already did it, way back in1999.  The events in this film took place during one of the cyclical “UP” periods of the professional wrestling industry, when it was cool to like wrestling.  If the cycle continues, in a couple years we’ll see a new upswing.

Surprising for a documentary about wrestling from over 10 years ago, it doesn’t actually focus on too many guys who’ve died.  I will say that three of the main focuses of the movie – Mick Foley, Terry Funk, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts – probably should have died a couple times over.  Jake at least 20 times.  Back in the day, this doc was somewhat eye-opening and revolutionary, pulling back the curtain and showing us the inner workings of the industry.  Nowadays, if you become a well-known wrestler, you usually write a book about all the wacky backstage antics and the road and so on, and there’s a lot less mystique to the business.

For me, this movie doesn’t really explain why I’m still a wrestling fan, nor why I have been for decades.  Just thinking about showing it to someone with a passable knowledge of the business scares me, because if they see what these guys put themselves through on a nightly basis, hell for a lifetime, and don’t at least understand it a bit, well they’ve got to be questioning why I still watch it.  Seeing Foley get his head hit 20 times with a steel chair by The Rock, while watching his wife and two young kids in the front row, bawling their eyes out.  How do you rationally explain that to someone?

There are some wonderful human stories in the movie, as well as deeply depressing.  Jake Roberts is a man who by all rights should be dead by now, but possibly because of some Faustian deal keeps going.  Blaustein captures a heart-wrenching meeting between Jake and the daughter he hasn’t seen in four years, and seeing Jake admit to his own failures to his girl, well it affects you.  But Jake’s such a crafty bastard, an expert in psychology, that you’re never sure if he’s just working the cameras for maximum effect.  Oh, and if you don’t know, “working” is wrestling terminology for making something appear real.  Or maybe it was a worked shoot.  Whatever.  Sometimes I feel dumb for knowing these things.

If you have no interest in wrestling, then I doubt you’d enjoy the film.  You probably wouldn’t see the passion these people have for entertaining people, just seeing the pain they put themselves and others through on a daily basis and ask yourself why they do it and why am I watching it?  If you’re a wrestling fan though, it’s close enough to being a bible.  It’s a movie that probably had a far bigger effect on the industry than anyone in the industry would ever agree upon.

4 / 5

The People vs. George Lucas (2010)

Like many nerds, I have a love/hate feeling towards George Lucas.  I’m not as strongly focused on the minutia of detail that most Star Wars nerds are (I do get the difference between Han shooting first and Greedo shooting first, but I don’t care that much), but I do greatly dislike many of the decisions he’s made over the years.  I understand that he’s less of a filmmaker now and more of an uncaring, heartless businessman, but COME ON, just release the original versions of the Trilogy (there is only one Trilogy) cleaned up, UNEDITED on Blu-Ray.

Anyways, this documentary explores the history and evolution/devolution of Lucas since the beginning of his film career.  It features many impassioned nerd rantings and ravings, as well as brief interviews with famous artists such as Neil Gaiman about the ownership of art when it is released into the public.  There are some fascinating points made on both sides, interesting perspectives and ultimately, the film doesn’t have a bias.  It shows both sides pretty equally, though NERD RAGE is always louder than rational thinking.

It’s a fairly predictable doc, and one nerds such as myself have probably gone on and on about for years.  It will not surprise me when Lucas announces that they’ve remastered the original negatives of the Trilogy and will release it in its unedited form one day because MONEY.

3 / 5

Hot Coffee (2011)

Just so you know right off the bat, this movie has nothing to do with the “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” “Hot Coffee” mod (though I’m sure there’s a documentary idea about the video game industry in there somewhere).  It’s about that other infamous legal case that I’m sure you and everyone has heard of before.  You know, the elderly lady that spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee all over herself and was burned because it was hot coffee and sued McD’s and was awarded what everyone thought was a ridiculous amount of money.  It’s also about tort reforms in the American justice system and other things that sound boring to talk about, but when you watch a biased documentary on the subject you get righteously livid about.

Hot Coffee is definitely a biased doc in the grand Michael Moore tradition, but it spends almost no time at all with the director of the film, Susan Saladoff, being visible or even heard.  Yes, it is a movie with an agenda, but when you watch it and you hear about the agenda, you wonder how anyone could be so heartless and dead inside to consider being on the other side of the issue.  I knew almost nothing about the subject matter of the film, and after hearing about the cases of regular people and how supremely screwed over they were by the justice system and big businesses, well I wonder how Canada hasn’t welcomed more people into our borders in the past decade or so.

The film backs up the stories with numerous conversations with experts in law, and even celebrity law guy John Grisham.  I don’t want to bore you with all the details of the trials and injustices, just to let you know that if you see it on your HBO schedule, sit down and watch because the only way people can change things is to know what is going on.  That’s one to grow on.

4 / 5

George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011)

I’ve been sitting here for the last half hour surfing, reading up on George Harrison, and trying to come up with a hook or something introductory for this review.  I think the fact that thanks to stupid Telus Video On Demand, I haven’t seen the last bit of the movie and don’t have closure on it yet.  I will finish it though, and will edit this review in accordance with any changed feelings (Ed. Note: after watching, nothing changed).

Basically, for years I snobbishly dismissed The Beatles as overrated and hippy music and so on, without really listening to them.  Well, by the time that huge 9/9/09 re-release of The Beatles catalogue came about, I was decidedly amped and jazzed to see what I had been missing.  I ended up buying four of the reissues (Abbey Road, Revolver, Rubber Soul, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) over a period of time, and if I would have continued working at hmv, probably would have ended up owning them all by now.  I also ended up buying several Beatles books and just kind of immersed myself in them for a time and it was lovely.

Through those readings and other media (Nowhere Boy was a fairly decent film, Beatles Rock Band great fun), I had developed this new-found appreciation for them, and the members of the band.  I also came to prefer certain members over the others, and truthfully, John Lennon is the tops, followed by George Harrison, and then well it should be Paul McCartney, but his disturbing physical similarity in his old age to Angela Lansbury… well it IS disturbing.  Then Ringo.  I always respected Harrison’s skills and while I might not be the biggest fan of his spiritual side, I also liked that he seemed to not fully embrace his iconic status and actually distanced himself from it in ways following The Beatles success.

Anyways, Martin Scorsese met with Olivia Harrison, George’s widow, about putting together a documentary on the life of George (it would have been awesome if he called it that).  George Harrison had been collecting archival footage of himself for years to protect his legacy and tell his life story, and Scorsese was given access to it and produced a wonderful sorta documentary / biopic with tremendous music and rarely seen footage and it’s wonderful.  It touches on everything in Harrison’s life that I knew about (will have to wait and see if his “Simpsons” appearance is mentioned in the last bit) and not always in a reverential way.

George Harrison was a human being like all of us (I’m assuming you are, though on the Internet nobody knows if you’re a dog) and he lived a life far bigger and greater than 99% of the entirety of mankind ever will, and ultimately, he appeared to be a pretty humble guy about it.

4.5 / 5

The Captains (2011)

I suppose for writer and director William Shatner, making The Captains was a cathartic experience for him that allowed him to come to terms with his place in pop culture history.  For me – a non-Trekkie – it was more of a boring experience.  Don’t get me wrong, you can tell that this is a project of love from Shatner, but this is definitely one of those docs where a passion for the subject matter will affect your viewing experience.

I’m not sure what inspired the film, but it basically boils down to Shatner inviting all the actors and one actress who played a Captain in the Star Trek franchise to be interviewed by him about their time on the shows.  For some reason, the set-ups to all the interviews just seem very staged, and there’s no doubt in my mind that they were, but it just reeks of hollowness at that point.  There are some interesting points throughout Shatner’s conversations with Avery Brooks, Patrick Stewart, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula and Chris Pine, some funny stories and reminisces but I kind of tuned out halfway through.

I’m sure Trekkies the world over will love it, but it wasn’t for me.

2 / 5

Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011)

Now that I’ve moved to a city with a population under 50, 000, I’ve become quite aware of all the things and luxuries that I took for granted on a daily basis when I lived in Calgary.  One of those things is probably a daily newspaper, though even when I still lived in Calgary, I wasn’t reading either of the two dailies on a daily basis.  Honestly, pretty much every bit of news I get these days is online.  Sites that I used to think had their collectives fingers on the pulses of the world, well now they’re covering things a day or two after I’ve read about it or been linked to an article on Twitter.  Hell, 98% of the promotion of this blog is from my Twitter, and if you’ve come across this article right now from somewhere other than Twitter, let me know so I can attempt to capitalize on that.

Anyways, my way of padding this write-up is that above paragraph that gives you a glimpse into my personal life while tenuously connecting it with the movie I’ve just watched.  Now I’m going to tell you what the movie was about.  Actually, the title pretty much describes it 100% accurately, putting it in the same pantheon as Snakes on a Plane.  The documentary was shot over a period of time in 2010 when much of the journalism industry was suffering from declining profits and institutions like The New York Times were finding ways to justify their own existence in such a media aware time period.

In a way, the doc feels almost Aaron Sorkin-esque, where key players at The Times offer sermons about how integral they are in the fabric of the world today and other such lofty claims.  There are also some fortunately timed news events during the filming, such as Julian Assange’s creation of Wikileaks, the iPad release and bankruptcy of the Tribune Company.  I found it to be thought-provoking, interesting, fast-paced and well-made.  That is the end of my review.

4 / 5

Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball (2006)

Like some kind of masochistic freak, I’m a big fan of pinball games.  On my PS3, I’ve got the Zen Pinball and Marvel Pinball tables downloaded to my hard drive, and I owned the Williams Pinball Collection game as well.  However, I’m not nearly as good as I wish I could be at them, leading to many hours of frustration and accusations of cheating at the game, not to mention how cheap they’re set up sometimes I MEAN REALLY COME ON!  I also don’t go to arcades anymore (do they still exist?) and so my only avenue to play pinball games is in the simulated form and while bacon bits might taste good, they’re no substitution for the real thing.

Anyways, apparently real pinball cabinets aren’t being mass produced as much as they were back in their heyday, and this documentary (also known as The Future of Pinball at IMDb) explores how this tragic event (#firstworldproblems) came to pass.  Written and directed by Greg Maletic, Tilt goes through the history of pinball machines from, well, the very beginnings in the late 1800s and so on through the various iterations and industry-wide changes that took place until the relative present day.

It’s well told, though a bit dry.  The pinball developers interviewed are informative enough, and there’s plenty of archival footage to enjoy as well.  I liked swearing at the Space Shuttle pinball table they showed, because FUCK THAT GAME.  Anyways, it’s enjoyable, though clocking in at just under an hour you definitely want more.

3.5 / 5