To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story

Directed by Derek Dennis Herbert

Starring – Kane Hodder, Robert Englund, Danielle Harris

The Plot – The film is the harrowing story of a stuntman overcoming a dehumanizing childhood filled with torment and bullying in Sparks, Nevada. After surviving a near-death burn accident, he worked his way up through Hollywood, leading to his ultimate rise as Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th series and making countless moviegoers forever terrified of hockey masks and summer camp. Featuring interviews with cinema legends, including Bruce Campbell (Ash vs. Evil Dead), Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), and Cassandra Peterson (Elvira: Mistress of the Dark), To Hell and Back peels off the mask of Kane Hodder, cinema’s most prolific killer, in a gut-wrenching, but inspiring, documentary. After decades of watching Kane Hodder on screen, get ready to meet the man behind the mask in To Hell and Back; a uniquely human story about one of cinema’s most vicious monsters.

The film is currently not rated

POSITIVES

– Most of the time, a backstory in documentaries serve as nothing more than exposition to tell the whole story, but with the first act of Kane’s life, we get a mold for who he eventually became. All of the bullying, the tolerance to pain, and really the overall entertainment that he gave his friends served as stepping stones to becoming the horror icon that he eventually became.

– Kane’s increasing passion for the characters he takes on is evident in multiple aspects of the film. For most actors, particularly stunt men, a role is just a paycheck until the next one, but for Hodder this embodiment is not only on a physical level, but also a mental one, as Kane himself approached the roles from a psychological level, giving Jason Voorhees some of his most menacing of qualities.

– Imaginative backdrop set pieces. Considering the entirety of this film is told in actor interviews, it’s nice to see that the production spent every creative effort in visually enhancing the rooms around the storytellers, with images straight out of a horror film. For Hodder in particular, we’re treated to what looks like a smashed kitchen, complete with broken chairs and turned over coffee cups, giving the picture that on-set kind of feel each time we cut to Kane.

– While Kane cherishes the fact that he never broke a bone in his decades of work, we still get a very detailed and revealing embodiment of just how dangerous this job truly is with these horror stories that are much worse than anything on-screen. In one of his first films alone, Kane describes being engulfed in flames to such vivid detail, all the while none of the actors and crew around him know just how badly he’s suffering because he does it so frequently. Herbert’s film has no problem glorifying the trade, but does so in a way that never relinquishes the responsibility in relaying the dangerous price that comes with the big lights of the Hollywood luster.

– As a storyteller, Kane’s finest moments seem to come when he tears up re-living some of his most torturous moments, both on and off screen. It offers a satisfyingly revealing side to Hodder that many of his biggest admirers have never been granted. In that regard alone, ‘To Hell and Back’ is the kind of valued documentary that provides emphasis in vulnerability that these often thought of invincible presences never receive.

– Important shooting locations. There is no shortage of on-site locations in landscape and hollowed hallways to some of Kane’s greatest tragedies and triumphs, and this rare gift decades later offers plenty on the way to spiritual reflection. Not only is this valuable to the story for visual representation, but it serves as a cathartic moment for Hodder himself, who comes full circle with the places and faces that have shaped him and his never-die spirit.

– A testament to Kane’s undying reputation, comes in the form of a who’s who list of horror genre celebrities who are interviewed for the film. As we all know, honesty in your work is judged upon by your peers, and the guest list on this picture might be the single greatest assembly of my own childhood heroes that any film has ever seen. Aside from Englund and Harris, Bruce Campbell, Bill Mosely, Sid Haig, Felissa Rose, and Cassandra Peterson are just a few of the names who have interacted with Kane, and if you forget any of their names, fear not, because the film goes overboard on repeating their visual name tags more than a few times.

NEGATIVES

– Studio stock musical score. No disrespect to composer Jonas Friedman, but the musical tones in ‘To Hell and Back’ strongly lack any kind of versatility or originality to the scenes they accompany, and constantly feel like they intrude upon an emotional rendering that a scene has going for itself.

– For a majority of the second act, the film starts to feel tedious in production team members naming their favorite moments, instead of resting the focus on the title protagonist. People will argue that it does this because Kane is a big part of these films, but I feel like the redundancy sometimes takes far too long to get to its intended finish line, and I would’ve preferred more time donated to Kane off of the screen.

– Much of the production value screams A&E Television style. Aside from the repeat in name tags that I mentioned earlier, that feel like they’re constantly coming back from commercial break, the camera movements and lack of inspirational interview angles diminish the value of creativity that stems from a majority of this project. This greatly leaves the film feeling burdened from transitioning into that big screen presence that so many documentaries this year have already attained.

7/10

RBG

Directed by Julie Cohen, Betsy West

Starring – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bill Clinton, Sharon Frontiero

The Plot – At the age of 84, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has developed a breathtaking legal legacy while becoming an unexpected pop culture icon. But without a definitive Ginsburg biography, the unique personal journey of this diminutive, quiet warrior’s rise to the nation’s highest court has been largely unknown, even to some of her biggest fans…until now.

Rated PG for some thematic elements and adult language

POSITIVES

– Unique character framing. While it’s certainly no surprise for a documentary’s title figure to receive the royal treatment, Ginsburg’s superhero-like appeal is captured in the most unlikely of situations; with T-shirts and websites comparing her to figures like Notorious B.I.G. What I love about this is that it puts the world’s celebrity focus where it deserves to be; firmly with the support of those patriarchs who paved the way in crafting the world we live in today.

– Despite a brief runtime of 92 minutes, ‘RBG’ manages to envelope Ruth’s entire story, most notably her time on the Supreme Court bench, as well as her relationships at home. The latter was certainly more fascinating to me, as it’s in those interviews with her children, as well as soundbites from her deceased husband, that carve out a woman who truly did have and do it all. She never sacrificed her career to be a Mother or vice versa, and her up at dawn routine is firmly documented throughout.

– Because so many classic Supreme Court battles didn’t have the benefit of being filmed, we are treated to soundbites inside of the hearings as our depictions during the narrative. However, Cohen and West visually treat us to vital quotes that appear in eye-popping detail with a courtroom backdrop, to put us in the heat of the moment, without ever missing a step in dramatic pulse. This more than anything cements Ruth’s on-going legacy as a presence who never just rested on getting a seat at the table.

– Part of what makes Ruth such a lovable protagonist is her unabashed humility and selfless presence that is captured wonderfully in the up-close-and-personal style of shooting throughout this picture. Even at the age of 84, she can still command a room with her soft deliveries and stern-but-sweet personality that feels like the sweet grandmother we all deserved growing up. In the film, Ruth says she never yelled or intimidated when she spoke, because she believed that is the moment when a listener will tune out, and she couldn’t be more accurate, as my attention never withered or strained from hearing about her lasting legacy.

– My favorite aspect of the film that I think many people will indulge in, is her fifty-plus year marriage to her husband Martin. If there was ever a story for perfect couplings, Ruth and Martin take the cake. Throughout the picture, we learn that Martin was not only her biggest supporter during a time when the male majority was anything but, he was also her balancing act in making up in humor what she lacked. All of this is further elaborated on when you see the glow that Ruth preserves each time she looks at or speaks about him. There’s is a love too authentic for the silver screen.

– Revealing, insightful details. Even if you are the biggest of Ginsburg fans, ‘RBG’ will fill you with enough biographical, researched knowledge to make your head spin. Without spoiling a lot, some of the aspects of her time at Harvard Law greatly surprised me and enlightened me to the conditions that women were dealing with in seeking mutual employment. Interesting enough, this aspect of history repeats itself later on, when the focus turns to a group of females who seek entry into the Virginia Military Academy. You know what they say about learning from history.

– Now more than ever, a film like ‘RBG’ has such distinct value in those who seek the change that they wish to see in their own worlds. Inspiration is one thing, but this film teaches us that Ruth wasn’t alone in laying the bricks of activism, and if we’re going to see results of change, you won’t get a reaction without the action needed to push forward. Because of this, the film establishes that sense of being the perfect film at the perfect time for the #MeToo movement, proving that even though women have come so far, they still have a great distance to travel.

– In her inspiration of many young women, as the film so dutifully shows, the lasting impression of Ginsburg will never go one day again without being felt. This will undoubtedly give the film great replay value in terms of aging, that most films can’t pay for. Documentaries to me are usually a one-and-done kind of sit, but I see ‘RBG’ as being the cliff note for many future battles that our civilization will endure, going forward.

NEGATIVES

– While I can credit West and Cohen for their successful rendering of the topic subject, I cannot award them style points for anything groundbreaking or original in their visual presentation. Documentaries anymore provide a flare to compliment the hard-hitting details that virtually fly off of the page at you, and in this regard the movie was very plain and derivative for me, of everything else in the genre that came before it.

– My biggest fear coming into the film did come true, as the movie does divide our political cultures, instead of being the catalyst to unite them. It isn’t quite left-side propaganda, but it isn’t far off either, as much of the third act material takes valuable time to fling mud at any right-winger who has come in Ruth’s path of destruction. Being an independent voter myself, I am able to flesh out these instances of promoting, and to me it felt so very different from the woman Ruth evidently is. She’s never someone who uses a negative to reduce someone, but sadly the film is never as admirable with its clear-cut intention.

8/10

Three Identical Strangers

Directed by Tim Wardle

Starring – Silvi Alzetta-Reali, Eddy Galland, Ron Guttman

The Plot – New York, 1980: three complete strangers accidentally discover that they are identical triplets, separated at birth. The 19-year-olds’ joyous reunion catapults them to international fame, but it also unlocks an extraordinary and disturbing secret that goes beyond their own lives, and could transform our understanding of human nature forever.

Rated PG-13 for some mature thematic material

POSITIVES

– Masterful storytelling in the form of the brothers, as well as the dozens of family members, doctors, and authors who played a pivotal role in this one-of-a-kind story. Eddy in particular, has such a unique tone of voice and passion when he describes someone he loves or a particular event in how it went down, and that kind of energy being tapped into played wonders in keeping me engaged in them throughout the picture.

– Articulate dramatizations that play hand-in-hand with the storytelling being told audibly. Most biopic documentaries use this feature, but use it in a way that is corny or comical in presentation to the way that takes away the focus on the details. But in ‘Three Identical Strangers’, this aspect in visual storytelling captures the essence involved with the atmosphere that feels honest to the imagining.

– A surprisingly big budget feel in musical favorites. Even if music isn’t the prime focus in a story like this one, the inclusion of tracks like disco and southern rock that were all the rave at the time of this discovery, do wonders in immersing us into the right time and place for this setting. Beyond just the triplets, this is a story about pop culture in the 80’s, a time when people started understanding that you don’t have to be in the movies to be considered a celebrity.

– There’s a rich combination of humor and dramatic material in the film never stumbles or cuts short the power of the other. For as much as I was authentically laughing during the first act of the movie, the evolution of maturity in material during the second and third acts when the relationship of the brothers becomes tested, felt very compelling in the sense of heartbreak for my immense interest in this uncovering of the truth that the trailer promised us endlessly.

– Speaking of that mystery, the less you know about these brothers and their circumstance, the better. I myself knew absolutely nothing about these triplets, other than what I was told in the trailer, and even that might be too much. In my opinion, go into this film completely blindfolded, because only then will the impact of helplessness cast upon these three gentlemen reach its boiling summit, and you’ll be moved to the point of being an information seeker because of it. Sometimes 91 minutes of a film just isn’t enough, and you’ll find yourself searching for what has happened since the cameras got turned off.

– With spoiling as little as I possibly can, the material focuses on the age old debate of nature versus nurture, and while the final verdict doesn’t feel anymore conclusive because of this shining chapter, the many ups and downs of uncovering this dark past certainly provide plenty of ammunition for both sides. Throughout the movie, I was debating with myself, occasionally changing sides with the more I knew about what these brothers had been through, pointing to that aspect of genetics that lies somewhere in the middle. Engaged and enraged, this film played chess with my opinions, and even still I’m as confused as ever.

– BAFTA nominated filmmaker Waddle does a superb job at piecing together the facts and the vast collection of TV appearances and newspaper articles of this story, while leaving his finger firmly on the pulse of human psychology. Selflessly, Waddle never allows himself to be much of a presence on-screen, albeit in just brief question deliveries that he has for his guests, but instead spends his time preserving the thriller aspect of the real life story that sometimes feels too compelling to be a true story, proving that drama plays for stronger stakes in the world far beyond the silver screen.

– Something interesting happens with the dialogue throughout the film that required you to constantly pay great attention. The only thing I could compare it to are the Saw movies, when a line of dialogue is re-inserted during the closing moments of the film to add new meaning to the clues it gave early on. That same thing happens many times in ‘Three Identical Strangers’, and does so without ever spoiling what’s to come, because most phrases in human conversation have double meanings when played out of context. Truly provocative in how it forces you to hang on to every word.

– Doesn’t waste time in getting to the meat of the story. What you do learn from reading the synopsis above, happens in the first twenty minutes of the documentary, leaving that inevitability that something bigger and darker lies just underneath the surface of human interest pieces. What evolves, does so without taking away from the luster of the enchanted tale, all the while harvesting this level of regret in somber details that only gains our interest so much more.

NEGATIVES

– In the heated debate throughout the film of nature versus nurture, there is one disappointing aspect, most notably in the time devoted to the lives of these kids and their adopting families. Everything is summarized briefly, but I feel like this particular angle needs more attention paid to it, especially during the third act, when we start to see the laces of theories and narrative thesis being tied together. Some more family experience or elaboration could’ve done wonders in making this a perfect film, but as it stands it is the only aspect of the movie I was disappointed with.

9/10

350 Days

Directed by Fulvio Cecere

Starring – Bret Hart, Ted Dibiase, Greg Valentine

The Plot – Get a behind-the-scenes look at the world of professional wrestling featuring interviews and photographs with legendary wrestlers and rare in-ring footage! Starring former champions Bret Hart and Billy Graham, it’s a true look behind the curtains at the grueling life they led on the road 350 days a year and the effect it had on their marriages, family, physical and mental health. Featuring Greg Valentine, Tito Santana, Paul Orndorff, Abdullah The Butcher, Wendi Richter, Bill Eadie, Nikolai Volkoff, Stan Hansen, Angelo Mosca, Lex Luger, and more, the event also includes some of the last interviews ever done with George Steele, Jimmy Snuka, Ox Baker, The Wolfman, Don Fargo, and Angelo Savoldi. Plus, an exclusive introduction and interview with JJ Dillon (manager of The Four Horsemen) to discuss the current state of professional wrestling.

Currently not rated

POSITIVES

– For anyone who is new to professional wrestling, or seeks more knowledge about the profession, ‘350 Days’ is an intricate starting chapter full of unlimited knowledge. This is an unabashed and candid look behind the curtain of entertainment that is second only to magicians in terms of secrecy, and through the many legends that are interviewed for it we get many horrific examples in and around wrestling that prove that fame comes with quite a steep price.

– Beyond its unlimited knowledge, the film is also responsible in the direction it takes with letting the audience decide if it’s worth it or not, once all of the facts are presented. It would be easy to glorify this sport in the eyes of a wrestling fan director or in the hundreds interviewed for the picture, but I appreciate that the material paints the sport as something that isn’t for everyone, asking several times if they can fight through the pain.

– There are some never-before-seen pictures that are displayed throughout the film that reveal talent in their most personable stages. These were perhaps the parts of the movie that were the most beneficial to a wrestling fan like me, because especially in the 80’s, you never got as much exposure backstage as you do in modern wrestling, and some of these rare prints gave me lots of intrigue while painting a vivid picture of the atmosphere that is covered throughout nearly two hours.

– Bret Hart is my all time favorite wrestler, so I appreciated that he more than anyone took the reigns midway through the film and became the on-going narrator of sorts. Beyond being a master historian, Bret is someone whose honesty has always carved out an opinion that you either love or hate him for, but either way there is probably no one better to speak who has been through the many stages of independent and big league wrestling to compare and contrast.

NEGATIVES

– This documentary reeks of a cheap production sprinkled throughout. Above everything else, it is in the use of pictures over video footage that clearly illustrates how the filmmakers were unable to attain the rights to show these special instances. While I mentioned earlier how I appreciated the pictures, a modern documentary can only go so far on storytelling and pictures alone that eventually it needs video evidence as a dramatization for what is being discussed.

– Terrible editing and scene transitions that could’ve easily used another director’s cut. Sometimes interviews drop out with little leading that the interview is concluded, sometimes the next person will cut off the previous person before they are finished talking, and sometimes wrong pictures will show when we begin to hear a voice, and that person won’t be the one in the picture. On the latter, there were so many times when I was deceived on thinking a particular person was in the film, only to discover that the picture had nothing to do with the voice of who was speaking, and it eventually got aggravating.

– At 110 minutes, this film is simply far too repetitive to keep you intrigued. With the many topics, it discusses the outline first, then eventually says how it effects each wrestler speaking. The problem with that is how many wrestlers were brought in for this project, so we have to get every single wrestler’s opinion on every single subject, and it all just blends together with repeating the same outline.

– Which brings me to my next problem; there is no minimum for who is invited to speak on this project. No disrespect to certain wrestlers, but some of these names I’ve never even remotely heard of, forcing me to lose interest every time one of them appeared on screen. In my opinion, the film should’ve stuck with the 12 wrestlers featured on the poster and just given more time to them. No film, documentary or screen play, should ever be introducing new characters with ten minutes left in the movie.

– There is a musical score in this film that is every bit repetitive as it is generic. Not that I expect versatility in a documentary about professional wrestling, but in hearing the same riffs over a repeated fifteen second offering, I was reminded of my many years playing 8 bit Nintendo games, where a repeated riff like on Friday the 13th or Who Framed Roger Rabbit could make you want to punch baby seals. ‘350 Days’ takes this gimmick and pushes it to such annoying levels that I crouched lower in my seat every time I knew a musical montage of pictures was coming.

– I have a ton of respect for Cecere’s first delve into the director’s chair, but ‘350 Days’ is every bit as unfocused as it is redundant, leaving very little impression or style to compliment his brand of filmmaking that makes this project stick out in any possible way. The very lack of direction in this film could’ve come from anyone, but it turns out that it’s helmed by an actor who has over 200 roles to date, proving that while he shines in front of the camera, he has much to learn about commanding behind one.

4/10

Whitney

Directed by Kevin Macdonald

Starring – Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, Bobbi Kristina Brown

The Plot – Whitney Houston broke more music industry records than any other female singer in history. With over 200 million album sales worldwide, she was the only artist to chart seven consecutive U.S. No. 1 singles. She also starred in several blockbuster movies before her brilliant career gave way to erratic behavior, scandals and death at age 48. The documentary feature Whitney is an intimate, unflinching portrait of Houston and her family that probes beyond familiar tabloid headlines and sheds new light on the spellbinding trajectory of Houston’s life.

Rated R for adult language and drug content

POSITIVES

– Academy Award Winning filmmaker Kevin Macdonald makes documentaries the way they should be made. I have seen some criticize Macdonald’s movements in this film as being too invasive, but he’s someone who I value as a filmmaker because he isn’t swayed by the celebrity of the topic, no matter how big the person or thing he is covering. ‘Whitney’ is most certainly his crowning jewel, unveiling truth after sobering truth about inherited mental distress that played a heavy hand in her eventual undoing.

– There’s an overwhelming sense of blame that runs rampant throughout the film. The idea that so many friends and family knew so much, yet did so little. This elevates the tragedy of Houston to unspeakable levels, and forced more than the occasional tear down this critic’s cheeks.

– The film does a terrific job in capturing the big stakes that Whitney rose to in her performances every single night. In a profession of constantly changing faces and personas, Houston and her timeless music carved out a slice of perfection that has rarely been seen over such a lengthy period. I always knew she had unbelievable range, but thanks to Macdonald’s unflinching focus with some of her greatest performances, I became incredibly aware to the once-in-a-lifetime talent that Whitney really was.

– With the music sampling in the film, it never felt repetitive or forced to represent a topical discussion. Instead, there’s a very eclectic offering of her catalog that represents the vast evolution in the ever-changing pop music world, collectively binding a greatest hits collection that feel like individual chapters for the many life and career arcs in Houston’s life.

– A fine mix of produced concert footage on-stage, as well as handheld VHS documentation to cover the entire spectrum of Whitney’s whirlwind life off-stage. This film has curtain pulling value that is second to none in terms of the very candid instances of the pop star’s personality, pre-cell phone age. In terms of trailing value, ‘Whitney’ feels like it is a story decades in the making, and should be commended for how much video has been preserved.

– Unabashed angles that never run or sugar coat the means of the facts. I appreciate this because Whitney’s is certainly a dark story to tell, but the picture has great brass bravery to inform fans both hardcore and casual of Whitney’s tortured kindred spirit. If you’re not surprised by at least one of the bombshell discoveries told in ‘Whitney’, then you must’ve been best friends with the singer. There has never been a more personal uncovering in the world of documentary.

– Strong establishment of the time and setting in each particular section. In between the musical listening of Houston’s greatest hits, we are treated to the rapid progression of a world that looks like it’s crumbling with consumerism, and Houston’s squeaky clean music is at the center of it. The birth of these two elements are made even more convincing and effective because of precision in editing that treats the bond as a video scrapbook.

– Much of the accompanying narration from Houston, pulled in bits from various interviews over the years, transcends us into believing that the singer lives and breathes for two more hours. It accomplishes this because Whitney is with us every step of the way to introduce us to the next topic of discussion, never appearing visually as she talks, so as to give off that feeling that Houston is speaking of them for the first time.

– Intimate interviews with those closest to her, that offer tons of insight into the events that shaped her. The focus is in speaking and looking directly into the camera, giving the audience the immersion of personal storytelling to make them feel like a valued member of this reflection. What this also does is capture the pain and anguish in so many who knew the high stakes that they and Houston were playing with, but never folded. That air of regret is so thick that it can’t be cut with a knife, and their recollections offer so much more than the casual ‘What Could Have Been’ perspective that other documentaries feel saddled with.

– A documentary that takes its allotted time (Nearly two hours) and makes the most with it. In understanding the two halves of Whitney’s life and career, you understand the pressures associated with fame and family reputation that demanded Whitney to find an identity of her own, and nothing is ever short-cut or subdued in thinking that one aspect of the story is more important than the other. When I saw the run time before the film, I expected lots of excess dead weight that could be cut in favor of fluent pacing, but there is nothing involved in the film that should be cut or trimmed in any way. It’s all vital to the bigger picture.

NEGATIVES
None

10/10

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Directed by Morgan Neville

Starring – Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, Francois Scarborough Clemmons

The Plot – From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom), Won’t You Be My Neighbor? takes an intimate look at America’s favorite neighbor: Mister Fred Rogers. A portrait of a man whom we all think we know, this emotional and moving film takes us beyond the zip-up cardigans and the land of make-believe, and into the heart of a creative genius who inspired generations of children with compassion and limitless imagination.

Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and adult language

POSITIVES

– Assertive, informative, and moving . Won’t You Be My Neighbor is the perfect documentary for all kinds of fans, passionate or occasional, who wish to immerse themselves one more time in their childhoods. It’s a heart-warming dissection of the man who refused to change in an ever-changing world, giving way to the kind of loving and supportive ideals that some in 2018 still struggle with.

– Documentaries often follow chronological time as their directing narrative for storytelling, but that predictable spin gets lost in favor of Neville’s focus on the impacts with the world at hand that only Fred could commute. In his unmatched relationship with his youthful audience, Rogers because a pioneer with a lasting legacy for positivity, something that figures from our childhoods are quickly being removed from.

– With any documentary about a particular person, I look forward to information about that person that I rarely knew about, and this film accomplishes this in spades. Aside from our own intimate portrait of Fred front-and-center, the film also has several deep psychological spins for what the many characters in-and-around the neighborhood represented.

– There is that stirring feeling watching the film, when you almost forget that Rogers has been deceased since 2003, and this is because of the masterful editing by Jeff Malmberg and Aaron Wickenden, that manipulates that feeling of real time. Aside from this consistent bending of time, there’s also an innovative way that the visual effects puts you in the seat of watching this on your own television, giving off that live vibe before our very eyes.

– With absolutely no shortage of scenes to reach for tissues, it specifically was the scenes of Fred supporting a gay cast member, as well as a child confined to a wheelchair where I lost it like I haven’t in years during a film. What’s even more credible is that these somber instances have absolute zero to do with negativity of the situation, and more to do with how truly beautiful Fred’s one-of-a-kind outlook on life truly was. If this movie doesn’t make you smile at least once, you should have your pulse checked.

– Wide assortment of friends, family, and colleagues that vividly paint the picture. It’s no surprise, nor small feat the kind of legend that Rogers became saddled with, but in hearing the perspectives of so many adults who he helped along the way, you start to understand that while children were his pedigree, the universal language of love was something he lived every single day of his life.

– Intercut during several points during the film, are some experimental animation with Daniel Tiger that added a layer of independent cinematic depth to perfectly capture the roller-coaster of moods that the film takes with its material. These illustrations by Jason Fruchter offer a kind of mature shading palate of the typical Daniel Tiger cartoon that can currently be seen on modern day PBS, where the color scheme breeds more psychadelic effect here that visually pleased.

– What was most impressive to me is that even though Rogers lacked the kind of controversy or trouble that a protagonist in these films always seems to have, the movie never lost steam to me in following along. This is proof that good storytelling doesn’t require a juicy circumference to hook its audience. Positivity still holds a place in this world, even though that aura of good does omit itself a bit after you leave the theater.

– Tons of behind-the-scenes footage that offer us that rare glimpse of him enjoying the many passions in his life. Even more beneficial in this aspect is the fading effect of this wall that divides character and person, reminding us of this rarity of them being the same person. Rogers lived and breathed his daily life lessons to those he constantly spoke to beyond the camera, giving much credibility to why his show worked despite the fact that it went against everything that was defined as great television for the time.

NEGATIVES

– Although I felt like the stuff involving Fox News certainly added a dimension of unnecessary backlash to Rogers consistently inspirational message, the focus aimed at the many shows and people who parodied Mr Rogers is something that I felt was strongly unnecessary during this particular film. Lashing out against these misguided comedians who are only doing it for a laugh makes Rogers almost come down to their level, and if it were up to me, I would be fine with Neville ignoring them all together instead of wasting minutes to even give them recognition. Even with Rogers comments on them, it never feels consistent with the rest of the film’s positive message of nothing coming between Fred and the kids.

9/10

Andre the Giant

Directed by Jason Hehir

Starring – Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, Vince Mcmahon

The Plot – A look at the life and career of professional wrestler André Roussimoff, who gained notoriety in the 1980s as Andre the Giant.

This documentary is currently not rated

THE POSITIVES

– Hehir’s unshakeable focus captures the drama and sadness of a lifestyle that seems electric from afar, offering a perspective that is every bit as educational as it is honest.

– Insightful narration by Andre’s closest colleagues. It’s rare especially in the wrestling business that a man is unanimously respected and universally praised, but it serves as a testament to the infectious touch that Andre had in such a short amount of time that he influenced.

– Soundly paced. At 85 consistent minutes, the film never lags or strays from the live fast style that Andre excelled at. Even the tales of his drinking legend are enough to fill a blank canvas.

– My favorite part was the never before seen material at home and outside of the ring that feels like the only honest look at Roussimoff. While the character was hard to remove from the person, these brief instances illustrate an outline of knowledge that Andre was so much more than booze and bodyslams.

– There’s an overall sense of tragedy by era that makes us wonder what if Andre was living today and able to easily seek the kind of medical advances that could reverse his judgmental health. Where I view this as a positive is that the kind of things that Andre suffered from can now be prevented for youths who would otherwise grow up to be on a limited clock just like him.

– Strong revolving camera techniques that alter back and forth with crisp execution during the testimonials. Beyond this, the inclusion and walking effects in and out of the places that Andre frequented, added a unique perspective that almost transports us back in time.

– This is a documentary with tremendous crossover appeal between wrestling and non-wrestling fans. In Andre, the uninformed see a protagonist and a man plagued by the gift that made him special, and that overall concept lays thick on the sense of empathy that people will feel almost immediately upon meeting him.

– It doesn’t shy away from those moments that are difficult to watch. The third act is full of the diminishing spirit of Andre’s lasting memory, but Hehir’s duty to his audience to stay with him all the way to the tearful goodbye is one that you have to admire for the dedication in not painting a fairytale. Bravo sir.

– HBO Films have proven their vast improvements in production over the years, and the collusion with WWE Films is a blessed marriage that fruitfully articulates the rise. From the over twenty years of wrestling footage, to the epic-thumping musical score by Rudy Chung, ‘Andre the Giant’ feels like it combines the rich textures of a Hollywood film with the unlimited access of a documentary, and it is a marriage worthy of a man responsible for leaving such an immense shadow not only on wrestling, but also the world.

THE NEGATIVES

– There’s a period of about fifteen minutes when the story drifts a bit too far from Andre for my taste. I get that the reason is to paint the boom in the ever-changing world of wrestling, but this distance feels like an unnecessary distraction that simply doesn’t belong.

– Without a doubt, the meat of Andre’s story is certainly the wrestling, but I was hoping for more of a direction of Andre’s personal life to fill some time. Much of Andre’s childhood is glossed over in a matter of sentences, and this was disappointing considering a lot of his troubles with school that I read in his autobiography is something that accurately prepares him for the lifetime of polarization that he will face.

8/10

Strong Island

One family’s testimonial with the judicial system leaves them reeling from racial prejudice and severe incompetence, in the documentary ‘Strong Island’. Winner of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Award for Storytelling, the film directed by the victim herself, Yance Ford, takes place In April 1992, on Long Island NY. William Jr., the Ford’s eldest child, a black 24 year-old teacher, was killed by Mark Reilly, a white 19 year-old mechanic. Although Ford was unarmed, he became the prime suspect in his own murder. Ford chronicles the arc of the family across history, geography and tragedy; from the racial segregation of the Jim Crow South to the promise of New York City; from the presumed safety of middle class suburbs, to the maelstrom of an unexpected, violent death. A deeply intimate and meditative film, Strong Island asks what one can do when the grief of loss is entwined with historical injustice, and how one grapples with the complicity of silence, which can bind a family in an imitation of life, and a nation with a false sense of justice. ‘Strong Island’ is not rated.

Whether you’ve ever been subjected to racial bigotry or lawful mishandlings, a film like ‘Strong Island’ shapes the kind of reflective glance at our own world that only seems to be getting worse with time and educates the viewer on perhaps a side of the moral coin that they may not be privy to. The best kind of documentaries are the ones that hold the responsibility of teaching firmly in its grip and doesn’t alienate one side or the other when telling its story. To say that this is the perfect film for the perfect time is kind of a given, but what really throws another log onto the flames of enticement for Ford’s presentation is how she articulately crafts the two subjects hand-in-hand and rapidly erases the line of separation dividing his two subject matters. Every story in life deserves to be told, but Ford’s rushes to the front of the line by presenting unfolding drama from this decades old case that is even still unfurling before our very eyes. In this manner, the film steals a piece of your soul that it has no intention of giving back, and Netflix strikes the hot iron once again with a documentary mystery with all of the fixings.

Through 106 minutes of versatility in material, the film surprisingly holds a lot of depth that doesn’t stay rested on just being a one-note intention. Through the first act of the film, we are introduced to this family who while living through segregation in upper New York, are often polarized in demanding more for their circumstance. This area of the film is particularly compelling because it presents an angle that is already easy in understanding the disposition that this family takes in from a society that isn’t changing fast enough. Kind of like being a victim long before the worst has begun. From here, the middle act of the movie lays out the pivotal night in question and what led up to it. This is where the film feels the most informative because there’s lots to understand about this scenario that does and does not play out well for the Vance family. Thankfully enough, he is such a credible filmmaker and supreme storyteller that he never lets something that doesn’t cater to his narrative get in the way. Everything is presented with underlying honesty, and that’s something that I greatly appreciated from this film. What is most surprising perhaps, is how deep this film proceeds through the closing minutes, soaking in the pain and misery of a group of people left behind from a night that changes them all. One scene shows Yance crying into a towel, and the sound the emotes from this scene is shattering to the point that it instantly stirred goosebumps up my arms. I’m honest when I say there are motion picture films that don’t taste as riveting in the thick layer of melodrama that ‘Strong Island’ leans on, proving again that what is real impacts further, an ideal that this film goes to the well on frequently without it ever drying up.

Vance keeps the production simple enough for this presentation, choosing to focus more on strength in story than rich graphics and effects that can sometimes cloud the focus of an informative documentary. The decision to have pictures and letters appear and disappear at the effect of hand movements feeds more into the mentality of the storytelling experience, making us feel within the confines of those who are taking us through the journey. The music by Hildur Guðnadóttir and Craig Sutherland isn’t relied upon too heavily, just really for those scenes when it peaks the shock factor in the true disgust of this case as told, but I would’ve been fine without it for the surrealism that it occasionally breaks within this realm. Without question though, the single best decision that Ford chooses is to shoot these interviews so closely, leaving little room to look away or feel distracted. He does this as a means to an end so that we spot first hand the kind of reactions that our narrators play to, and if it is true that the eyes are the windows into the soul, then the pain and anguish of decades rises to the surface by this truly valuable decision to aim close.

The interviews too, added plenty of emotional firepower in transcribing how the loss of one has rocked a few. The set up of such are always in that one-on-one perspective with the director himself, relating more to an interview feel of authenticity rather than simply having each speaker talk to the camera. While the entirety of these guests are enjoyable enough and add plenty of differing perspectives to the events that they cover, the film definitely sizzles the strongest when Yance himself takes the reigns and commands an emotional rollercoaster of a person who changed more than anyone over the course of this loss. Through that angle, we meet and come to know a born woman who embraced life as a man, a sense of direction for the film that very few were expecting, but one that feels rewarding in reaching through to yet another demographic of African American audience who take this in. Through these eyes, it’s clear that Yance not only lost a brother, but also his lone confidant in his blossoming sexuality. This builds the siblings as something much more, and certainly outlines the light-hearded framing of William Jr that it builds up for itself. Yance’s focus remains unfazed in finding clarity within himself, something that comes at a bit higher of a price for the film itself.

THE VERDICT – ‘Strong Island’ is a gut-wrenching, somber, and hearty depiction about racial divide and segregation that never stops beating its message of injustice. Through its impeccable focus and free-range approach, Vance handcrafts us through a butterfly effect of consequences that stem from one terror-filled night of misunderstanding, questioning what could have been without the fear of racial tensions. Most importantly, it’s an intimate deposition into the kind of paralyzing aftermaths that comes with grief, and will leave you unsettled for pulling back the curtain of truth from those who have been plagued to tell it.

9/10

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power

The former Vice President of America is back at it again, this time with dire urgency for his cause riding high amongst a new naive president. ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’ takes place more than A decade after ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ brought climate change into the heart of popular culture in 2006. In this riveting and educational follow-up that shows just how close we are to a real energy revolution, Vice President Al Gore continues his tireless fight, traveling around the world training an army of climate champions and influencing about international climate policy. With the elected four year incoming of president Donald Trump, Cameras follow him behind the scenes in moments private and public, funny and poignant, as he pursues the empowering notion that while the stakes have never been higher, the perils of climate change can be overcome with human ingenuity and passion. ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’ is directed by the team of Jon Shenk and Bonni Cohen, and is rated PG for thematic elements and some troubling images.

Whether you like or dislike Al Gore and everything that he stands for politically, you must applaud the man for taking such a general interest in standing up for the well being of our planet when no one else will. In ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power’, Gore continues that march with a 95 minute lecture on where we as a society have advanced or decreased in progress over the last decade when it comes to solar energy, climate change, and overall infrastructure for those countries not as fortunate as the bigger ones when it comes to spending. I myself did enjoy the first film, and found this one to be an equally insightful piece, despite some problems with the structure of the documentary that definitely peaked out some less than honorable intentions creatively with where the film’s material should be firmly planted. For anyone who hasn’t seen the first film, nor knows much about overall climate change, this movie will be A competent enough companion piece to opening your eyes for the first time about the urgency of time running out with each passing year. A fact that Gore himself narrates passionately throughout the picture in an unapologetic front.

As a host, Gore certainly feels like the right man for the job. Since losing the 2000 presidential election, Al has taken a stance in witnessing first-hand the kinds of problems shaping our world that other political figures have turned a blind eye to. Over the course of this picture, his narration, shaped with some exceptional editing work behind the lens, details in full the kind of warning signs that are plaguing our world if we refuse to act quickly, and it certainly feels effective coming from someone who not only spoke at a few conferences over those ten years documented in the film, but also wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in searching out the truths of these problems first hand on land. My only problem with Gore as a figure is that the documentary itself might be better fleshed out if it spoke to the audience through just voice narration, and not so much visual narration because it can at times feel slightly distracting when the film pauses its progress to document several pieces of Gore’s history as a political figure, and current day patron to those with a similar cause. Quite too often, the film kind of becomes The Al Gore Show, and that’s fine from a man with so much passion for the causes, but If I wanted to watch an informative documentary on the 43rd Vice President of the United States, I would seek one out first hand.

I did mention briefly that the technical work of this picture definitely does a service to understanding and captivating the mind-sets of everyone watching at home, and the overall aesthetic work feels very rich for a documentary presentation. The camera angles used in capturing the polar icecaps melting effects, as well as the historical stock footage from landscapes like India, Africa, and even Miami, Florida who have all been ravaged by free-flowing water, serves a greater purpose in supporting fact in a visual capacity, and it couldn’t be put together any more impactful than that. Also, the musical score from composer Jeff Beal certainly adds an element of impending doom to go hand-in-hand with Gore’s lectures, while channeling the ominous tones of an epic disaster flick that really feeds into A ‘life imitating art’ kind of feel. Typically I review around ten documentaries a year, and while this one isn’t the best overall, I can tell you that it is an early favorite for technical mastery of that particular field. For sight and sound, you couldn’t ask for A better experience that (like our own world’s shifting) never stops moving around us.

As an independent voter, one of the jobs that I take seriously as a film reviewer with films like these are if they cater into a political party’s agenda, and with that I give you the single biggest sting that this movie’s final grade will take on its audience. If you’re Democrat, you won’t feel a thing, but for the rest of us there’s the obvious dropping of responsibility method that Gore pokes and prods at with the sensitivity of an electric eel. How do I determine it propaganda? Well, the film has no qualms about singling out presidents Bush Jr and Trump for their roles in ignoring policy that could otherwise save some of these disaster problems, but then completely ignores president Obama entirely for what role he played during these events. Considering the disasters that this film captures are over the last ten years, and Obama was president for eight of those ten, it lacks the responsibility of pushing the envelope further in asking the kinds of questions where that Democratic president was when the Indian people were being rushed from their homes after terrifying tsunamis. To hammer this home, there’s even a message in the closing credits to vote smart, an ideal that doesn’t really need a reminder in this kind of film. Speaking of pushing the envelope, the film doesn’t present a countering side to all of the ground work that Gore is laying out. During the third act, we’re shown a big city in Texas who has gone 100% Renewable energy, but the question remains why other cities haven’t leached onto this method. I feel like the film drops the ball immensely in provocative journalism, leaving us all with only one side of the renewable argument. Even if the answer is as simple as companies lining their pockets with cash, that side deserves to be exposed, but directors Shenk and Cohen are a bit too clean cut to tug at that tempting string, even if it is the best thing for the direction of the film.

THE VERDICT – ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ isn’t inconvenient, it’s just simply ignorant of the entire opposing argument that it only hints at in the shadows. This sequel is effective enough in providing the material through haunting imagery, as well as mind-stirring facts, but lacks the grave urgency of the Academy Award winning first film that sealed up all of the angles without getting its hands dirty in the political spectrum. There’s plenty to enjoy about Shenk and Cohen’s informative piece from an awakening perspective, and if you are part of this cause it is definitely a must see, just expect the material of the planet as well as the political.

6/10

Risk

How much of your own life are you willing to ‘Risk’? Laura Poitras, Academy Award winning director of CitizenFour, returns with her most personal and intimate film to date. Filmed over six years, Risk is a complex and volatile character study that collides with a high stakes election year and its controversial aftermath. Cornered in a tiny building for half a decade, Julian Assange, the founder of Wiki Leaks, is undeterred even as the legal jeopardy he faces threatens to undermine the organization he leads and fracture the movement he inspired. Capturing this story with unprecedented access, Poitras finds herself caught between the motives and contradictions of Assange and his inner circle. In a new world order where a single keystroke can alter history, Risk is a portrait of power, betrayal, truth, and sacrifice. Risk currently has no rating, but does have scenes of peril against our cast.

Over the last five years, Laura Poitras has quickly become one of my absolute favorite documentary directors, and a lot of that has to do with her unbias sense of direction with who and what details her pictures. She’s someone who is fortunate enough to be there live and in person when the breathtaking events of a government that is supposed to have our best interests fouls up, and often lets those events tell the stories for themselves without steering the audience in one direction or another. Risk is the latest of that momentous roll by Laura, as she depicts an ambitiously wide scope of six years to depict the events that surround the infamous leader of the WikiLeaks. As an entertaining and educational piece of filmmaking, Risk falls just short of its CitizenFour predecessor because of its jumbled narrative that doesn’t just focus on that central figure, but also of Jacob Appelbaum part in espionage intelligence, and at times basic reveals that offer very little in the way of shocking revelations. From a technical standpoint, it’s as good as any documentarian working today, weaving its way in-and-out of a world of great fear and uncertainty, with a mellow-dramatic musical score to follow. But if you’re watching Risk for the same kind of shock value that CitizenFour adorned as the single best documentary of 2014, then you will be left feeling a little empty.

Right off of the bat, we’re positioned to understand that this is Assange’s story to make or break. What I dug about this particular angle is that Poitras’s film shows an unusually honest side of its supposed protagonist, refusing to hide the sour tastes in bites that we get from being slightly too close to his on-going conversations. This is a man and character that feels very human in that regard, so there’s very little in the way of manipulation to make him into something that he is so clearly and evidently not. It did take me some time to envelope myself into this particular story in the same way that I did Edward Snowden’s in CitizenFour, but if you wait long enough, the second act pays off with an unsettling cloud of paranoia that engulfs Assange like a poison. In this regards, I found the second half of the movie much more intriguing than the first, especially when this particular chapter of the WikiLeaks saga played into last year’s presidential election. Once again, Poitras chooses not to endorse either candidate, and her stance on both being equal devastations to the world’s well-being is one that I commend greatly for her putting her work before her own political admirations.

Props also to the subtle musical accompanyment that feels slightly influenced by composer Trent Reznor during one of his many collaborations in David Fincher movies. The ominous and eerie organ tones used in Risk audibly paint the kind of ambiguous dread and secrecy that hide behind the uncovering of each technological advancement that serves as a positive and a negative to our likeness. The movie also has strong editing, complete with narration from a particular scene to stretch the impact of those lasting words on each and everybody in the room’s reaction being played on camera. This is brilliant because these scenes don’t just play to one general impulse, but rather a dozen because the human feedback to discovering such betrayal doesn’t just rest on a single emotion. The establishing shots of Hong Kong, Egypt, Washington D.C and every other location that the events take place in are also capturing of the global scale impact that Assange’s trysts have taken effect of. Because of this, Laura paints a canvas of uncertainty that will really make the audience question just what kind of swept-under-the-rug details that their leaders are keeping from them.

As for the problems that I alluded to earlier, Poitras juggles two stories that while they are related in business sense, couldn’t be more different in directional pull. Assange is very much dealing with the snowball effects of his whistleblowing antics catching up to him, yet Appelbaum drops in occasionally to distribute the knowledge of countries whose internet usage is being banned by their governments. I certainly see the common link between their stories, but Appelbaum’s subplot often feels like it doesn’t fit into this particular narrative, trimming and cutting down Assange’s arc that definitely serves as the meat and potatoes of the movie. Another aspect that pales in comparison to that of its CitizenFour counterpart is the proof in the pudding, as well as the shocking reveals that will undoubtedly push audiences over the edge in one direction or the other. Poitras has usually never missed her mark as extreme as she has here, but it always feels like the strongest acts to this story are the ones that we hear about in passing. Ones that could certainly be illustrated better in capturing the essence of the development even further. Because of that, things do tend to feel rushed in this brief 86 minute offering that has only so much time to convey the information.

THE VERDICT – Risk manages to be capable enough of telling its own controversial plot with government mingling, but falls just short of capturing the riveting unfolding of events that made CitizenFour a must watch. Even still, the production quality does a solid enough duty in bringing chills and uneasiness to the audience at home, and Assange is the kind of credible protagonist who doesn’t have to be maneuvered one way or the other of the moral spectrum, instead opting for the human side of characteristics. Despite the clever title, this is as informative and as mind-bending of a documentary as you will watch this year. Very few films have this kind of gravitational pull. Check it out.

7/10

Weiner

A documentary about the infamously disgraced U.S Congressman seemed like a great idea. Now Anthony Weiner finds himself in hot water after a scandal is brought to light. The film follows Anthony and his wife Huma Abedin, beginning with his time in Congress and his 2011 resignation after photos of his bulging underwear appeared on Twitter. The bulk of the film is about his 2013 campaign for Mayor of New York City. At first his campaign is going well, with many New Yorkers willing to give him a second chance as reflected in polls putting him at or near the top of a crowded field. Then additional examples of his online sexual activity surface, including explicit text conversations with women that occurred well after his resignation from Congress. The mood of the campaign switches from exuberance to pain. Intimate views are captured of Weiner, his wife and his campaign staff struggling with the new revelations and the media firestorm that ensues. In only a couple of instances is the camera asked to leave the room. The result is a compelling portrait of a man, a woman and a political campaign in crisis. “Weiner” is written and directed by the duo of Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, and is rated R for adult language and sexual material.

“Weiner” is an insider look at the very pressures of a promising candidate and what kind of price has to be paid when said candidate’s dirt comes to light. Kriegman and Steinberg keep the cameras running during some heavily troubling times for Anthony when one scandal after another breaks, and are wise enough to step back and let the story write itself. The fact that there is zero narration or directional storytelling here, speaks volumes to the stigma that there’s no story more compelling than real life. What’s truly marvelous here is that there really are no heroes in the game of politics. Every character that weaves in and out of this story, from the nasty high-pressured press to the Weiner family themselves, everyone garnered some kind of negative reaction from me. This is a troubling PERSONAL time in a young man’s life, and it took everyone he knew and loved down with him. There’s nothing more harmful to a politician than when they’re caught in a lie, and the scandals in “Weiner” are perhaps among the most polarizing to a campaign in modern history.

Two things to me always make for the most insightful of documentary experiences: A real life unexpected event that is unfolding before the viewer’s very eyes and the even accuracy told from both points that gives an equal opportunity to find your own views on the subject. On the latter, nothing here feels one-sided or leading to the audience at home, and because of that I felt myself feeling very trusting in the kind of documentation that this duo were presenting in front of my very eyes. The main protagonist (If you can call him that) makes a lot of mistakes in his campaign to be president, and I really found myself at times agreeing with the same hateful public that shunned him. When the documentary started, I wanted to believe that Weiner’s scandal wasn’t that big of a deal as long as his politics were great. Boy was I wrong. On the former, this picture has great timing to always be in the right place at the right time. It’s almost unbelievable how well paced the timing is of this team, but it certainly is a credit to their work and desire to tell an accurate story; the very downfall of a once promising figure who had a couple really bad days. The price for fame isn’t always a positive one. Sometimes it comes with a tag that will change the life of that person forever. If I had one problem with the presentation of this documentary, it would be in the sound mixing/editing. With some poor long range microphones, it’s very difficult to pick up what a couple of strangers on the street said to Weiner in passing by. Subtitles would’ve made this problem non-existent, but because there are none in the movie, this required a couple of rewinds in my copy of the film, that really interrupted the flow of such a well paced dramedy of Shakespearian proportions.

The tone is one of great dark humor and borderline satire because of how ridiculous the material is for someone who is fighting for our personal freedoms. There’s certainly an air of irony when someone who should know better doesn’t, and that feeling resonates throughout the entirety of this 96 minute film. Capped off by a subtly appropriate musical score by composer Jeff Beal, a man well versed in the scoring of documentaries after his musical accompany in 2014’s “Blackfish”. Here Jeff plays next to the very unfolding nightmare that plagues Weiner. Never so much as to overstay his welcome, Beal offers soft tones that blend well to the humor playing out. Some of my favorite scenes with the music are ones of reflection with Weiner. This can be seen several times when he is either asked a question by the camera person or offered a moment to reflect in the very damaging ways that he hurt his own campaign.

From start to finish, we really see so much air removed from the sails of this promising political figure, and that goes even further when you see the destruction of this public eye family. Weiner’s wife Huma is certainly given her own metaphorical fork in the road, when she is given an ultimatum by her own political party midway through the film. Slowly, you start to see that trust that she has for her husband start to dissipate, and it left me feeling worried for the very foundation of this family, considering I know very little of their current day status. A political campaign can be salvaged and live to fight another day a couple years down the line, but the well-being of this family is where I found myself most concerned within this world, and never once did it disappoint in adding another layer before a big climax that focused on the final day of the election for New York City mayor. Weiner himself feels like two different people from start to finish. Early on, I felt myself charmed by his imposing demeanor to take on the issues that others weren’t passionate enough to face, but by the end of the movie it was a whole different story. I found several things to fuel the fire for my distrust of this man, and in that two-way sense, it feels very much like every politician you come across. You always wait for the other shoe to drop with these guys, and drop it does hard in this picture.

Overall, “Weiner” is a vote for real-life drama that unfolds at fast-flowing levels downhill, like lava that its characters just can’t run from. Elevated by sharp insightful editing, as well as the message of cautionary treading, “Weiner”, like the character in question, is a train-wreck that you simply can’t look away from. It’s a political thriller too amusing to be a television show, but too educational not to be recorded.

8/10

The Resurrection of Jake “The Snake” Roberts

Jake Roberts

The Snake always bites back. This quote is a summary for the redemption of one man who lost everything on the road to self-destruction. In “The Resurrection of Jake “The Snake” Roberts”, Director Steven Yu and producer Diamond Dallas Page document the rise and fall of one of wrestling’s greatest characters inside and out of the ring. Jake Roberts was on top of the world in the 1980’s, but a series of poisonous addictions and family abandonment left Jake at rock bottom on his deathbed. With the help of Page, Roberts finds himself presented with the chance to get back up after life has knocked him down plenty of times and finally stand proud on his journey to the mountaintop; a chance at putting the touches on the final page of an intriguing WWE story. Along the way, Jake comes to the realization that his ugly habits and lack of clean living has not only taken away his greatest gift inside of the ring, but damn near took his life from his eight children along the way. The documentary is a redemption story for one of wrestling’s most tortured souls who proves it’s not about how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get back up along the way. The film had a rousing review of positivity from the crowd at 2015 Sundance, where it debuted.

As a longtime wrestling fan, Jake Roberts was one of the very best when it came to in-ring psychology. Pehaps his ultimate downfall was that he was the very character he portrayed on-camera, and there was a lot of demons internally that followed such a lifestyle. Yu visually narrates us through a layered telling of Jake’s backstory that presents us with the shell of a man we have left. That angle is one of many that works effortlessly for the film because it’s every bit as important to showcase what got him to this point. There’s a real sense with the tone of this picture that Roberts might not make it out in positive fashion, but that presents a paradigm in honest storytelling that really catapaults the message of the film. In addition to Roberts troubles, the film reveals the troubles of Page’s failing business venture DDP Yoga and how it saved Jake as much as Jake saved it. Along the way, the two also take in former wrestling bad boy Scott Hall, who upon first impression is even worse off than Roberts. It does make for a clouded focus at times, especially with this being a story supposedly about Jake, but the movie doesn’t stray too far from the main idea.

The movie showcases an all-star team of interviews and spoken words to reveal Jake’s greatest contribution to the sport; the fact that he inspired so many. Chris Jericho, Edge, Steve Austin, and Ted Dibiase are just a few of Jake’s peers who lend their thoughts to one of the most influential men to ever lace a pair of boots. The film would be entertaining enough by its sales pitch of Jake’s brutal but honest road to a seemingly impossible redemption, but the touch of involving other heavy hitters of the ring really cements a legacy by a protagonist who while not the greatest of role models, is someone who reminds us that it’s never too late. Jake is someone who the audience will have trouble ever looking away from. His struggle felt very personal to me because this is someone who was very closely connected to my childhood. Nobody certainly ever wants to see their heroes die, but Roberts lonely daily routine made the documentary that much more urgent. Yu’s best work comes in the stance of not just being another guy with a camera, but a hands-on approach to his characters. Along the way, he serves as Jake’s watchful eye while Page can’t always be there. It’s a constant reminder that Yu does so much more than craft a heartfelt wrestler’s last chance.

As opposed to the 1999 documentary “Beyond The Mat” that left many with ill feelings towards Roberts, “Resurrection” has it’s moral compass in the right place by remembering that Roberts is a person who cries and bleeds like everyone else. The epilogue of such a film overstays it’s welcome by about ten minutes too long in the 96 minute run time, but there is a great sense of closure not only with The Snake, but with Roberts himself. Through a series of great editing and montage clips, Yu forecasts a future that Roberts can build on with positive thoughts. His look into this mind of madness is funny, heartbreaking, surreal, and, for a story about pro wrestlers, surprisingly candid. If you are a fan of old-school wrestling, definitely check it out. Sadly, I don’t feel there is a lot of appeal to an audience outside of that grouping.

8/10