Tag: Documentary

A Life on the Farm / Chop & Steele

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What’s this, a double review? Yes, I sometimes review more than one thing, if they are part of a series, for special reviews. But here are two unrelated documentaries showing at Fantastic Fest. Or maybe, they are related?

You see, with A Life on the Farm, it is about some old VHS tapes made in the 1990s, about Charles Carson. He was an old man with a farm, in England, who decide to start filming what can only be described as promotion films about his farm, and life on it.

With Chop & Steele, it is about a fictional duo named Chop & Steele. But the people who play this fake body building champion duo, Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, are actually friends for decades who have made history pranking local TV news stations and collecting VHS tapes. You know, tapes they have shown at their Found Footage Festivals on tour, with audiences laughing about the absurdity of things people filmed from television or in their own homes.

One of those VHS tapes they found, being the A Life on the Farm series, which was one of their biggest hits. And hey, that is the other documentary! Boom, connection, let’s talk about both.

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Oh my god, so many skeletons on this farm. 

Charles Carson is the archived star of A Life on the Farm. He has won people over through his edited shots and set up scenes around his farm, using very limited technology at the time, and doing it at his old age when most people would assume he would know very little.

But more importantly, because like him for the things he did. Like, having his dead mother, pre burial, on a wheel chair around the farm, filming her saying goodbye to the land. A lot of folks would be creeped out by a dead body, but not him. He is death positive, and just wants to ensure that they get to pay their last respects.

In terms of the footage, I bet the actual unedited stuff is great, especially with a nice MC putting it in better context, and with a group of folks. But a documentary about the footage, its history, and it being broken down, did not make it seem more exciting. It just felt weird and uncomfortable split up this way, not the jolly interesting time I was hoping and expecting.

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These guys are swoll. 

Now, in this documentary we can learn more about Nick and Joe. It is how they got started, their first festivals, and their first pranks! Like pretending to be an expert Yo-Yo expert, while not being an expert Yo-yoer. And more importantly, their Chop & Steele persona, which got them real big and famous because…they were sued over it!

Yep, a parent company of a TV station, once they found out they were a prank team, sued them for Fraud and more. They wanted it to be settled, and to apologize to the station, but the pair of course did not, and wanted to go all the way with it. It did become a talking point on other morning news shows, noting that this just shows that journalists didn’t do their first job. And also, eventually it did lead them to getting to America’s Got Talent, which was a claim they made to get on the shows!

But honestly, a lot more is just about the duo and their lives. Their friendship. Their direction in life. What their future plans on. Is it acting, or writing, or splitting up eventually? It brings a lot of heart into this documentary, much more than I expected about a few pranksters. And much more than I expected after watching the former documentary in this review.

It breaches a lot of good topics, while also being funny in its own right. I can’t wait to see what Nick and Joe do in the future, and if they plan on going any new direction with their antics, or if they dial it all in and retire.

1 out of 4. / 3 out of 4.

Sextortion: A Hidden Pandemic

Sextortion is a combination of two words, Sex and extortion. Extortion is usually getting money or other benefits through threats. Sextortion then, is either getting sex through threats and violence, or even, using sex as the threat, to get more things.

Neither is great, no matter who it happens to. But in particular, Sextortion: A Hidden Pandemic, is going to talk about this practice happening through the internet. Why is it happening? How is it so popular? And why it is specifically targeting the youth of America.

It is a very hard documentary and subject to talk about, but generally one of those that can help save lives. After all, if people know what to be on the look out for, and know what is going on, then you know, the bad guys might get caught? Or at the very least, your loved ones can be better protected.

Unfortunately, the people who generally need this sort of message. Like, preteens and teenagers, usually aren’t getting it from any sources. From parents, nor from schools (mostly thanks to parents), so they remain vulnerable and exploitable, even if their parents know all the knowledge to stop it. A documentary that can cross both bridges would be wonderful, and hopefully, informative.

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Don’t worry, it is also full or artistic drawings, you know, if you like art.

So what specifically is this documentary about? Honestly, most of it is about one specific case set in Virginia. Of a guy, who happened to have some big connections, being caught pretending to be a teenager on social media. He would flirt with girls, convince them to take a naked picture or something, because his camera is broken, or he will go next. Then the threatening would begin. Now he would release the picture everywhere, unless he gave them more.

I guess one thing you learn about child pornography rings, is to get accepted into them, you can’t just upload old CP to their servers. They already know about that stuff. They need you to produce fresh new content. And one way to do that is through, you know, this method above. Because once you have trapped a teenager, they will be potentially be too scared to do anything else but comply. They wont want to tell their friends or parents, because of shame, and their goal is to reduce the amount of people know immediately. And that really sucks. And the guy they caught and put on trial and you know, convicted, did that a lot.

What is surprising to me is how much of the movie is about the trial, or similar ones, and how little is about the actual process and ways to prevent it. I mean, it is there. Sure. But it feels like it was there just because it had to be. And the focus was on the trial. This trial I cared so little about. I care that the guy was arrested and put away, but I don’t need to know every aspect of the trial or research into catching him. This documentary wanted to get into that True Crime aspect a lot more, maybe to cast a wider net.

And in terms of usefulness, there was probably a little bit of useful information here? But the documentary isn’t set up in a way that it will be appealing to preteens and young teenagers, who need to hear it the most. Parents might watch this, and might try to do something about it, but the message will likely still get muddied.

On a final note, I think it is disingenuous to throw pandemic in the title here. Ridiculous even. I don’t want anything turning Pandemic into some buzzword to get attention. From the title, I don’t know if it is implying this is more important than the non-hidden pandemic, or just trying to ride its coattails, but it does NOT need to. It is already about a serious topic. It can stand on its own feet.

2 out of 4.

My Old School

If you ask me about my old school, I will need you to be specific, because I went to six schools growing up. Two per standard tier. And I would love to talk to you the most about my second high school because it was a weird experience. And it was very nerdy.

But I doubt my experiences were unique enough to ever think about making a documentary about it.

So what are you doing Jono McLeod? In My Old School, he thinks his high school has a story worth telling. About a mysterious student who joined his high school at 16 years old, and became just an immediate force at his school. People knew him. He was smart. He was kind. He was involved. His name was Brandon Lee. Which was odd, because this was a few months after the actor Brandon Lee died while shooting The Crow.

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Yep, that looks like a school in the 90s. 

Wait, who is that? Yes, that is Alan Cumming! Oh did Alan go to that school? This is in Britain, after all. Nah, Alan Cumming is actually playing adult Brandon Lee. The Brandon at the school, not the dead one. Brandon was interviewed for this documentary, but for reasons, didn’t want to show his face. We also get to have interviews with other people who were in his and the director’s same class.

I mostly already told the overall plot of the movie. But some mysterious kid with a very specific name comes to this school, and is just so much…better than everyone. Having a gifted student isn’t weird. That isn’t news worthy. So why is it news worthy? Well, that is the surprise, and the reason to watch.

When it comes to the story and if it is worth a documentary, overall I would say yes. It was big in the news at the time, at least in that area, and was about quite a few interesting topics overall. It is a cute story overall too. Partially because it is being told through interviews, and personal stories, from people who knew him. And Brandon when narrating has Alan Cumming just lip syncing his words, to give a face to it. Most of the time however, it has a really standard basic animation to tell and show the story.

My Old School, albeit slow at times, and clearly very strongly an indie story through and through, tells an interesting story, and there can be many worse ways to spend your time.

3 out of 4.

American Werewolves

An American Werewolf has famously traveled the world. We had An American Werewolf in London and then later An American Werewolf in Paris. Did you know we were going to have An American Werewolf in Rome? I also just now learned that fact.

But what about An American Werewolf in AMERICA? We would probably just call that American Werewolves then.

There are quite a few werewolf movies set in America it turns out. We had The Wolf of Snow Hollow a few years ago, notably, that was one of my favorite movies that year. All of these movies with werewolves in America have two things in common. They have a werewolf in America. And they are fictional films. Completely made up. Story boarded, filmed, with CGI or person in a fur suit or both.

But what about reality? Maybe werewolves are real? In American Werewolves, we are going to hear about real people, who have had encounters that make them think one thing: Werewolves. So now they are believers. And now someone has gathered their stories together, so we can be the judge.

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When the moon hits your eye, and that is all you can see, that’s a scary.

American Werewolves directors decided the best way to do this documentary about the supernatural was to provide NO outside influence or editorial to the stories. We don’t have an interview with someone calling any of these stories bullshit. We don’t have supernatural experts. Officially, the people talking on this documentary are only people who have stories where they claim to have seen werewolves.

Are all of these people lying? No probably not. They may have had a weird experience and their mind filled in some gaps. Memories can change and be influenced.

And as expected, most of the people with stories had very unclear views of this beast. Hiding in the bushes. Or no evidence. The final story implied a lot more direct interaction, but again, all it is a story.

I do think that for a documentary, it was a good idea to focus on people’s stories, and not make direct judgements. Let’s get some information out there and see if any of it tracks. I don’t love the stories, and they did no convincing for me, but they are there.

I think the documentary did more disservice though with the imagery and music they chose to use. It felt cheesy, and didn’t give the proper mood at all to me as a viewer. The stories that were told also felt very rehearsed. So many of the story tellers used the same phrasing to describe what they saw, really specific “scientific” like language like canine and bipedal instead of talking like what normal people would probably talk like. And that also brought me out of the stories.

I do wonder if the Sasquatch and the Werewolf legends are about a similar entity. That would be a fun twist. But I’d rather live in a world with multiple types of fantastic creatures, not just one.

1 out of 4.

2000 Mules

Every two years, I get to start a review talking about how every two years Dinesh D’Souza releases a piece of crap documentary.

It is the only thing getting him money, and it is presumably getting him nice amounts of money too, since he just keeps doing it. Maybe he sells some books and does some speaker tours too, I don’t know, but dumb asses keep throwing their money at him, so this whole thing continues.

I am meant to be a bit unbiased about these things, but the past films of a director totally should influence the future ones. Then you can see growth. Or see if they keep the same bad decisions that are calling cards for them. D’Souza’s calling card seems to be conspiracy theories, creating false narratives, projection, and usually, repeating the same arguments over and over in these documentaries.

Like three of them in a row seemed to pretend that why were different, but kept falling back on the weird same arguments about the history of parties and didn’t offer almost no new material between them. But yet, he made money.

So I will say this about 2000 Mules, the latest effort. This documentary is finally, FINALLY, about something new. Although just because it is new doesn’t mean it is worth watching.

M00ls
This cover photo is reenacted for maximum fear mongering.

So what is 2000 Mules about? It is saying that at least 2000 people were hired during the 2020 election, to take pre filled in ballots to ballot boxes in states that were going to be close. To then stuff 3-10 ballots at a time in these ballot boxes, before going to 5 or more in an area in one night, early in the morning, whatever. And then doing it again, and again, and again. The assumption being these are people paid by Democrats to push the election in 2020 to Joe Biden’s favor, and is why Trump lost the election.

Sigh.

Okay, first of all, I can’t debunk everything in this review. That isn’t the point of my reviews. What I was surprised to find out though is how detailed the Wikipedia on this movie is, including noting how all these claims are basically bullshit, with sources. So here you go.

Instead, let me just note a few things. One, this thing really likes to attack people who are voting early in the morning or late at night, with the assumption that if you do something late, you are clearly suspect. Which is factually stupid. So moving on.

Two, it claims it doesn’t understand any level of selfie/internet culture. Since it attacks people on cameras who would take a PICTURE on their CELL PHONE when putting a ballot in the box, and said it was clearly them proving they did it for pay. Instead of like, you know, the many people who love to vote and take pictures of their vote and encouraging others to do so.

Thirdly, and this one is the most hilarious. They will show a video of someone with multiple ballots for whatever reason they might (maybe they brought in their families, I don’t know, I don’t care). And claim that this person also went to many other drop boxes, and would do this many times. And then they never showed that person in another video again. Like, it seems like the obvious proof of something awkward. Show the same person, in different boxes, or the same box, voting on multiple days or times. And they don’t. Why? Because this whole thing is just bullshit.

Honestly, yes, the Wikipedia does all the work.

This is a documentary that was even talked about in the January 6 public hearing already, and more people noted the dumbness about it.

So congrats D’Souza, you tried something new, and it was worse than before. I always need a good mind refresh after these things.

0 out of 4.

Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America

In the last ten years there has been a sizable chunk of documentaries made that detail racism in America. Some of them are very specific and deal with just one of the many topics, and some of them try to tackle them all.

One of the biggest ones in this decade was 13th, because it was a documentary that tried to tackle it all. From the onset of slavery, to civil rights, to the prison systems and police forces that have inherent racism today and are still being used as big tools to oppressive people of color. It was for free and on Netflix, so a lot of people saw it and it maybe started to open some eyes.

Honestly, I feel like one of the reasons there have been so many of these documentaries is due to those people who hear aspects of them and then shut their eyes, cover their ears, and just say things like “Slavery is over!” and random MLK quotes to act like everything is fine. The more they hear the message that everything is not fine, the better chance of something slipping through, I guess. And honestly, a lot of these documentaries haven’t been great, if you have seen a lot of them. They may say the same information you already have heard, without that much new to add. But theoretically, if you are the type of person to seek out dozens of documentaries on the topic, then maybe the next newest one isn’t to get your attention and is aiming for those who keep ignoring it all.

That brings us to Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America. From the title alone, you can tell it is one of the documentaries trying to tell the whole story, its many branches, and how it affects us all today and where we are at in dealing with it. I was worried it would tell me everything I already knew. I was surprised to find it giving me the information in a new way.

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That’s right. With some smiles!

In reality, this documentary is also sort of a lecture talk. Jeffery Robinson, star of this documentary, does lecture tours to talk about Racism in America. And this documentary uses a lot of his footage on the stage, talking about certain issues, spliced with his voice over of other graphics, and interbedded with relevant and theoretically random interviews/scenes. For example, one smaller scene with him arguing with someone (white) holding a Confederate flag (you probably would have assume White), about what the Civil war was about, and mostly owning him in that regard.

Let’s face it, if this documentary was just an hour or hour and a half long talk with him on stage talking to a live audience, that would not be great. There are some stand up specials that can break the mold and be worth it (looking at you Nanette) but I am glad it had a variety of uses of media to get its message across. It helped keep the overall message going, and me in engaged in the talk, without drifting off or getting bored.

And this documentary has a big goal ahead of it. It is going to THEATERS. I honestly don’t know if any other documentary about racism in America made it to theaters across the nation (obviously NY/LA are different). There have been some conservative documentaries, mainly from Dinesh D’Souza, that have badly talked about race, so it is good to see one go on a large scale to attack those messages.

I hope it is reached. I know it already had the  (unfortunately) regular racism fueled “1 rating bombs” on IMDB early on, which happens already to a lot of black film, and definitely documentaries about black life. Although it is hard to imagine anyone every changing their mind at this point in the country, I like to have some hope that somewhere, maybe, there is a chance.

4 out of 4.

You Can’t Kill Meme

Documentaries about memes? I am here for them, completely and always. As long as they are movies assuming you already understand memes enough and are not some Boomer guide to the internet.

After all, they are in our lives, and can affect things, even if you don’t want them to. Last year we got a really great documentary called Feels Good Man, about the artist behind the Pepe frog, how it was taken by the alt right and internet channers, and his attempts to get it taken back and put back onto a positive spin. That documentary also talked about how the memes were used to help Donald Trump win the 2016 election, which is solid. It might not seem true, but it was, and it isn’t the only reason he won, just a reason it helped.

Now we have You Can’t Kill Meme, a documentary about political memes and how they have affected our life. I assume it was going to have a more broad outlook on the election, an things before it and after it, and how if text was put on a graphic format it was hard to kill.

It is about that, yes. But it is also about memetic magic. A concept talked about before memes really existed, in a book, about how they can be brought out to utilize literal magic, in order to get tasks done.

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What is this CGI doing to the poor pepe frog?

Magic? What? Yeah, I assume the title part of that book “Memetic Magic: Manipulation of the Root Social Matrix and the Fabric of Reality” was more of a note on how memes can be used to change social unorder through addiction to technology and fake news or whatever. Nah, it is about how if its done enough with enough power or thought, it can make things happen, literal magic. Sort of like The Secret, honestly.

And yeah, that is what this movie is about. The director (Hayley Garrigus) does something journalists rarely do and just lets the subject people talk. She talks to people who refer to themselves as magic users, and the author of that book, and some people who believe in meme magic.

That is fine and all. This documentary has one purpose, to talk about that phenomenon. But it reeks of bullshit. Sort of makes me hate the documentary. There is no counterpoint, there is no narration calling anyone out. This is just some people’s point of view.

Now, is that inherently bad? No. One can try to be unbiased and tell a story of a group of people and let their message out while also disagreeing with that group of people, I suppose. It just doesn’t feel like that is what is going on. It feels like this is being a tool to prove something that feels really dang silly. I feel almost duped watching it.

If you want to watch a movie about the alt-right and political memes and the 2016 election, go ahead and watch Feels Good Man. That is the real recommendation here.

1 out of 4.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

If you were a fan of Anthony Bourdain before his death, you likely knew him from his show Parts Unknown. Somewhat of a cooking and food show. Somewhat of a travel show. A show that Anthony was able to make, thanks to some successful book writing, where he was able to explore and discover the world on his own terms (sort of), and experience life to what he thought would be the fullest.

But was his life just traveling through countries, some peaceful, some war torn? What about his home life. Did he have a stable home life, with a spouse, lover, or kids? Did he have a place where he could unwind and be himself and not be his public persona?

That is what the documentary on his life is set to tell us, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, because of his travel heavy life the last decade or more. And maybe it will seek to find naswers to other questions that are on everyone’s mind. Why did he decide to take his own life?

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I don’t know where the fuck this was taken, but at least it is pretty. 

Don’t worry, the documentary doesn’t dare make the assumption on why he took his life, but it does talk about his suicide early on and throughout it, so if that is a topic you don’t want to hear, you might not be interested in this documentary. After all, it is filled with family and friends, who talk about their lives together, the good, the bad, their shock at the events, whether it made sense to them or not, if they felt they could have changed it at all. Some heavy topics, interwoven with the life of Bourdain.

I can go and say I knew of Bourdain as a celebrity chef/travel guy, but I had never once seen his show or read his works. The closest I had to watching something of his was his scene in The Big Short where he explains CDO’s. And yet I knew his death would affect a lot of my own friends, who were fans of his work and on their own journey’s through life with their own struggles, and I did have worries it would bring them down.

I think this documentary does a great job of giving a realistic view of his life. It is certainly not glamourous nor is it slanderous. The only drama that comes from it is that apparently some of the dialogue was done by an AI company where he was reading things he wrote, but they didn’t have him say on camera. Honestly, it is not something any of us would have noticed, and doesn’t do much to actually change the documentary in any way, so I don’t care about the controversy. The people close to him can be upset if they weren’t told, but it also actively does no harm in this scenario.

Realistically, this documentary is made for people who knew of Bourdain through the TV or in real life. It is a way that can provide closure. For those who had almost no interaction with him in their sphere, it is fine as a standalone piece, but likely won’t get a full resonation that it is going for.

3 out of 4.

Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It

Growing up, at some point, my parents watched West Side Story, and although I never watched the whole movie (still true to this day)  from start to finish, I have seen all parts of it at various points of time, also while growing up. Some parts I liked more than others as a kid. Namely, Officer Krupke, Tonight, and of course, America.

Such high energy, early on, led by Rita Moreno, a name I didn’t know in my youth, but would grow to know later on in life.

Still to this day, this is the only song from the soundtrack that will randomly get in my head is America (and never re-watching it in the last 20 years will do that. I should see it again before the remake later this year). But other than that song, I didn’t know much about her life, what else she has done, or looked into her career ever. I knew she won an Oscar for that role, and that is it.

Needless to say, this was actually a great subject for a documentary for me, because I had a lot of information to learn about Moreno, and a decent amount of interest in finding this information out. Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It, tell me how you went for it.

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Oh what’s that? That is the name of the movie!

Moreno has been in a whole lot of films, and got her start really early. She was in musicals and films for a whole decade before West Side Story, including big ones like Singin’ In The Rain and The King and I. And of course she did a lot after that, despite not being super popular after her win. Usually actors/actresses go up in stock after an Oscar, but she seemed to hit a drought.

Throughout the decades she has had roles or not had them. She earned the EGOT, and did continue to kick ass, as a singer, dancer, and an actor. She even had a big recurring role on Oz that I definitely didn’t know when I saw the show (well, I knew the character was there, but WHO it was) and the voice of Carmen Sandiego in the 90’s. Honestly, this feels like finding a treasure that was always in front of my eyes, and realizing how deep those roots actually go.

And shockingly enough, by the end of the documentary, I felt such joy and full of hope, that I did cry as well. Crying during a documentary is incredibly rare, and if it happens, it is likely due to already being deeply in touch with the subject, and not just really learning about it deeply for the first time. A strange experience, but a welcome one.

Out of celebrities from the past, Moreno is definitely one of those who deserves it the most. Also features some words from Lin-Manuel Miranda, Eva Longoria, Whoopi Goldberg, and Morgan Freeman.

4 out of 4.

The Sparks Brothers

WHO ARE THE SPARKS BROTHERS?

A question I had to ask myself, and likely you did too. But it turns out, there are no The Sparks Brothers. There is a band though. It is called Sparks. And yes, the two main members of the band are indeed brothers. But they don’t go by the term The Sparks Brothers, that is some media shit.

Ron Mael and Russell Mael, the real life American brothers, saw The Beatles live in the 1960’s, and the rest was history. A history no one knows about.

Before we get into this story, I want to point out that this documentary is directed by Edgar Wright. Yes, that Edgar Wright. A dude who definitely loves music, we know that from films like Baby Driver, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and the fact that he has directed music videos before. But this is his first documentary, and it is over two hours long. I can only imagine the reasoning behind this film, not knowing who’s idea it was, had to partially be because Wright loved Sparks and wanted to give them a documentary they deserved based on his own nostalgia or music tastes.

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Who are these mysterious masked figures?!

The band actually started as Halfnelson and had an album produced by Todd Rundgren, but it did bad. So they changed labels and names, Sparks. It was supposed to be a play on words like the Marx Brothers and the Sparks Brothers, because they liked film and comedy, but the brothers didn’t want brothers in their name, damn it. Whether the media listened to them or not is nothing they can control.

This tells the story of them leaving America to go to Great Britain, to seem like a British Rock Band to be cooler, and it kind of working. To helping lead a synthetic revolution of music, they were one of the trend setters with a very unique sound. They got some amount of famous in the late 70’s and 80’s, changing their genre style a few times. They went into more obscurity for awhile, before coming back in the 90’s with some hits and picking up steam. Then they also did a collaboration album with Franz Ferdinand in the 2000’s, yes, that Franz Ferdinand. No, the band, not the dead guy. The album is called FFS which is a great title. And then bringing us to today, where they are still working on music, and also were working on a musical film that has been their dream from some time, Annette.

Wait, hold the biscuits. Annette? The musical coming out THIS YEAR with Adam Driver was made with music by Sparks? Oh fuck yeah. Is this documentary just another form of advertisement for Annette? Because I was already excited to see Adam Driver in a musical, no question about that.

These dudes have done it all. But this documentary, goes into the details of the ups and downs, their humor plays out as they narrate large chunks. We get to hear from former band members, managers, collaborators. We get to hear from a lot of musical and acting celebrities who liked the band growing up and have a bit to say in it too. There is a huge production behind a band you likely never heard about before, but who helped influence a ton of musicians. How can someone so popular be somehow be forgotten from pop culture consciousness? That is the question…

I never heard about Sparks before, but I like them now, at least as people, if not some of their songs. They definitely have to grow on you. This is a musician documentary I can get behind,

3 out of 4.