Nintendo Quest

Nintendo Quest

One man’s quest for the holy grail of 8 bit gaming takes him on a cross country road trip to self recollection, in “Nintendo Quest”. In this irresistably charming documentary on Nintendo, gaming enthusiast Jay Bartlett hits the open road with best friend Rob McCallum in hopes of buying the 678 official retail licensed Nintendo games for the Nintendo Entertainment System, in 30 days with no online purchases. Along the way Jay and Rob will discuss Nintendo history, landmark games, box art, music, graphics, game play and reflect on life.

“Nintendo Quest” is being given a limited run in independent theaters across the country, and if you are an 8 bit gaming enthusiast like i am, this is the film for you. The quest for gaming immortality might seem like a joke or laughable goal, but what this documentary taught me was that it’s what’s important to you that drives you to do better and reach for more. For Jay, Nintendo is his greatest passion. What makes his quest even more challenging is the fact that he can’t use the internet to find where the games are that he needs. That gives “Nintendo Quest” a very nostalgic feel for what it is trying to encompass. This was the way things were done in the 80’s and early 90’s, so it’s the only way to communicate to the younger generations of audience members just how difficult it was to own them all.

For a 90 minute run time, the film does try to juggle a lot, with Nintendo history from different gamers perspectives. It’s not that it’s not appreciated, but i would rather McCallum (Best friend and Director) focus more on Bartlett’s quest and some of the challenges that he faced with greedy game shops. The movie does showcase some uphill battles with price negotiation, but for the most part we never see any long winded debates. Everything is kind of pictured in a yes-or-no result, so it feels kind of rushed. There’s too much focus on other people, and not enough on the central protagonist whose quest is the entire reason i sought out this documentary. This would be the only real problem that i had with Rob’s feature, as there is so much more about it morally than just 8 bit memories.

Like any cross country adventure, there are many challenges at home that Jay must face along the way. Putting your life on hold becomes a lot tougher when you are in your 30’s, as opposed to being a child when the only thing that mattered was you and the boob tube. One thing that excelled in creativity about the film, was it’s 8 bit inspired animation for the opening credits, closing credits, and game lists in between. On the latter, McCallum uses some dreamy 8 bit designs to capture how many games Jay has bought, and how many days he has remaining. On top of this, there is a top 20 list of hard to find games that we get to follow along the way. The ending credits were among my very favorite of 2015, as many of the films on screen characters invade a game of “Super Mario Brothers”. It’s certainly an eye pleasing way to a positive stamp of creativity on the documentary genre.

Overall, “Nintendo Quest” is a calling card to the days when gaming was much more time invested by the gaming companies. Everything from the music, to the art design, to the games plots, required an endless stream of imagination, and that is something that the big budgeted games of 2015 could take a lesson from. The film is so much more than just a quest for one manchild’s biggest wish, but an inspiring message to all of us to seek out the things that make us happy. That is a message that i feel gamers and non gamers can relate on. “Nintendo Quest” is available now on Vimeo for $4.99- 24 hour rental, or $11.99- to own.

7/10

Live From New York

Live From New York

The history of one of America’s greatest institutions is told in this behind the scenes documentary. “Live From New York” showcases how Saturday Night Live has been reflecting and influencing the American news stories for 40 years. Director Boo Nguyen explores the show’s early years, with an experiment from a young Lorne Michaels and his cast of unknowns, and follows its evolution into a comedy revolution.

As an avid fan of documentaries, i was looking forward to seeing the treatment given to the longest running television show of all time. What disappointed me was just how basic and safe that this documentary played it, considering there is lots of behind the scenes controversies to be told. It doesn’t exactly educate the audience on anything that we haven’t already heard. This presents the film in a commercial light, more than an experimental one. There are some solid cameo interviews by past SNL cast mates like Chris Rock, Lorraine Newman, and Jimmy Fallon. One truly tragic atmosphere to these interviews is that you realize most of the people being discussed are no longer with us. “Live From New York” didn’t really take us into that lethal seduction of the results of some of the consequences cause by such a fame of being on every television set every week. The movie instead decided to offer nothing for the longtime dedicated viewer, and really focus more on the younger fans who aren’t as familiar in some of the origin stories.

The good news is that a lot of this is done with some of the very best editing background for the details being mentioned in narrated interviews. There is a lot of really culture reflective shots of New York during the time of each era discussion. This, combined with the quick cuts of some of SNL’s most memorable sketches, results in a very nice trip down nostalgia lane for the audience. The movie clocks in at a meager 80 minutes, and i really think this could’ve been stretched with over 40 years of material to speak on. It feels too rushed and even sloppy at times when it skips over generations that could’ve made for the best stories. For instance, i am one of few people who is a fan of the dark ages of SNL. This would be from 1981-1985, and it was during that time that some of the most meaningful struggles were going on. This feature skips over all of that, and treats that era as an unspeakable growth on a blemish free exterior. I know this not because of “Live From New York”, but instead from “Live From New York: An Unauthorized Biography”, the book about some of SNL’s greatest behind the scenes battles. That is what ultimately plagued this film for me; the fact that I know there are better material sources out there to shock and awe. I don’t really care as much about the hiring process for Lorne Michaels first cast in 1975 nearly as much as i care about the drug laced parties that were going on after every show.

“Live From New York” is too clean of a documentary to ever take these kind of risks. It was definitely a project that was played very close to the hearts of those at the show, and it’s a shame that those loyalties really handicapped this project. I would instead recommend the book that i spoke of in this review. This documentary feels like a live episode that is always done on seven second delay. A moral crime discussed to the audience of this documentary as “Lying to our audience”.

5/10

I Am Chris Farley

I Am Chris Farley

Saturday Night Live is a stage for many comedians whose light sailed across the landscape into superstardom. None of those stars were perhaps taken quicker than that of the late great, Chris Farley. ‘I Am Chris Farley’ is a documentary from first time director Steve Burgess about the history of one of SNL’s greatest figures. The 95 minute feature tells Chris Farley’s story, from his early days in Madison, Wisconsin, and at Marquette University, through his work at the legendary club Second City to his rapid rise to the top of the comedy world on “Saturday Night Live” and in hit films like ‘Tommy Boy’ and ‘Black Sheep’. Sharing insights into the beloved funnyman are the co-stars who lived to tell of such a legend. What works about this picture is that it serves as a perfect recommendation for anyone too young to remember when SNL ruled the world. Farley was at the helm of such a time, and it’s evidence how pivotol a point he played during that time. However, for anyone who already knew of Farley’s legendary skits and antics, the documentary is a little bit of a letdown in the informative department. The tales told in various interviews are nice to hear coming from some of Chris’s closest friends, but it feels like we tiptoe around the very problems that the trailer decided to focus on. It’s a little bit of a sloppy effort by Burgess, but what saves his feature is the biographical narration by Chris’s twin brother Kevin. What this does is give the film a look into a man who still lives with Chris’s face. It’s an interesting sight to see that Kevin’s very career is still mentioned in the same shadows of Chris, whether for positive or negative reasons. I also felt that the movie had great editing, complete with lots of intercutting shots of Chris’s memorable skits to play alongside with real life moments similar to the characters he portrayed. I mentioned before that i wish the movie could’ve dove a little more into the volcano of emotional depression that was exploding just beneath the surface of this juggernaut, and something so easy to point out can be seen in television interviews when Farley was at his weakest. I appreciate the effort that was put in from many sit-down interviews with such co-stars as Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, Lorne Michaels, and so many others that don’t accomodate with the easiest of schedules. It’s clear that they made time to tell such tales about their dearly departed friend, and that’s evidence in more than one tear jerking moments. ‘I Am Chris Farley’ isn’t quite the story that the title character deserves, but it is one that can showcase a time when the world was better off with such laughter. The biggest tragedy by the end of this 95 minute offering is that there will be many who make us laugh throughout our lives, but there will never ever be another Chris Farley.

7/10

 

Red Army

Red Army

7/10

When you look at the Soviet Hockey teams of the 70’s and 80’s, you are instantly met with a feeling of fear. What’s surprising is the country had more crumbling than just the walls seperating this communism run land. The sport of Hockey was around long before the Russians took it to the next level with bone shattering hits and unison ice skating with precision choreography, but it was in that country that Hockey was more than just a game, it was a politically infused fired shot. In Red Army, the documentary from Director Gabe Polsky (Bad Lieutenant), we get an 82 minute look at the most successful dynasty in sports history. Told from the perspective of its captain Slava Fetisov, the story portrays his transformation from national hero to political enemy. From the USSR to Russia, the film examines how sport mirrors social and cultural movements and parallels the rise and fall of the Red Army team with the Soviet Union. What i really loved about this documentary was it’s ability to showcase the darker side of sports during a time when tensions were at their highest with political leaders. It’s true that this team and it’s run to the 1980 Winter Olympic Games have been well documented, but never from the point of what happens after the Americans defeated this dream team of ruthless athletes. That is the area where Polsky focuses on in this film, and it makes for the most compelling of storylines detailing the harsh realities that these players faced when trying to sign NHL contracts to play in America. The on-going tension between Fetisov and his long time coach and adversary, Viktor Tikhonov, crafts a feeling of father Vs Son in the film’s narrative storytelling, even if there is a lack of love between the two. If the film lacks one thing, it’s the more in-depth view into the players adolescence. There is some talk of the Red Academy picking players at an early age in an almost Twilight Zone-esque description, but it never really capitalizes on what psychological effects it had on these boys to be literally ripped from their growing periods and traded everything for a pair of skates. Besides that, it’s hard to find anything to not appreciate about Polsky’s impressive collection of lively game footage, as well as operatic tones in soundtrack score to always keep the action impactful. There are many stories about the American dream, but it would be surprising to find that one of the most hard hitting emotional of the genre comes from America’s biggest enemies during the Cold War. It’s a story that on the surface is about Hockey, but the sport serves as a chess game for the battle between which country’s way of living would reign on. Red Army is greed, passion, betrayal, and most importantly, paranoia. It’s also the best reminder that some dreams take place in a country where they are forbidden.

Soaked In Bleach

Soaked in bleach

5/10

In a year full of Kurt Cobain documentaries, one controversial filmmaker (Benjamin Statler) takes the biggest step in the 21 year mystery of one of rock music’s most legendary figures. “Soaked in Bleach” reveals the events behind Kurt Cobain’s death as seen through the eyes of Tom Grant, the private investigator that was hired by Courtney Love in 1994 to track down her missing husband only days before his body was found at their Seattle home. Cobain’s death was ruled a suicide by a lackluster police department, but doubts have circulated for two decades as to the legitimacy of this ruling, especially due to the work of Mr. Grant, a former L.A. County Sheriff’s detective, who did his own investigation and determined there was significant circumstantial evidence to conclude that foul play could very well have occurred. The documentary certainly has it’s great ideas. Most of which involve many inconsistencies that many investigators have chosen to ignore. Grant’s stance against the city’s police department raises some interesting questions not only in Cobain’s case, but in past cases that have been ruled open and shut. What doesn’t work for the film however, is the laughable dramatization acting, as well as all of his verdicts being pointed at one person; Love. Grant refuses to think that many people may have been involved in Cobain’s death, despite the fact that a lot of his theories are just that; theories. The evidence is certainly there to question a lot of Love’s antics during the week in question, but the story in the film plays off like Grant was present for all of her motivations. I think this would better serve as a special on Dateline NBC or something similar. It all feels like a stretched out version of a one hour news piece. Educational, but not entertaining enough to spend 85 minutes with. I think if the film stands for anything, it’s that this case should be opened back up. The strongest push in this position comes from many now government officials who point out the monumental mistakes made by the city’s biggest suicide. The movie also recognizes the increase in teenage suicides related in one way or another to Kurt Cobain’s death. Ironically, it’s in the areas that have less to do about conspiracies where the movie works it’s message the best. I do think Statler’s project is better put together than the 1997 film, “Kurt and Courtney”. Another film that examines Courtney Love’s motivations, albeit with a little less evidence than Soaked In Bleach had. Despite my grade and negative criticisms towards this documentary, i would still recommend this picture to Nirvana fans. There are a lot of theories about Cobain’s death, and Soaked In Bleach lays them all out on the table in an attempt to get everyone on the same page. Also, give “Cobain: Montage of Heck” a look if you haven’t yet. It’s by far the best music documentary that i have ever seen.

I Am Big Bird : The Carol Spinney Story

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8/10

The character of Big Bird has been an icon to the greatest kids television show of all time; Sesame Street. But who is the man underneath the mountain of feathers? For 45 years, Caroll Spinney has been beloved by generations of children as the man behind Sesame Street’s Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, and at 80 years old, he has no intention of stopping. “I Am Big Bird” is a portrait at the backstory of the birth of one of America’s greatest puppets, and a biography of the talent that isn’t seen beneath the surface of the world’s largest bird. As a longtime fan of “Sesame Street”, i really enjoyed this documentary giving the audience a nice peek behind a closed curtain. The film’s greatest strength lies within it’s ability to show that the bird and Carol are one in the same. One scene in particular speaks of vandals tearing apart the Big Bird costume, and Carol’s reaction to seeing this as the equivalent of watching one of his children die. The suit is insured, the show costs were lightly harmed, but yet this man feels hurt from watching something that isn’tliving being ripped apart. That is where the legend of Mr Spinney really resides; it’s a man with a heart of gold who came from an abusive relationship from his father, but didn’t let those tough times determine who he was as a person. Director Chad N Walker (We Must Go) comes across as more than just a casual fan, as he includes a nice mix of show moments, behind the scenes runthroughs, as well as a wide range of past Sesame Street actors from different generations of the show’s history to speak. It makes for the perfect nostalgic treat. It’s all done with agentle, sentimental touch, and it makes for a reflection on such a warm man. Big Bird only works because he is being played by a man who embodied childhood innocence every year of his life. The documentary misses some points to dive a little more into Spinney’s earlier life. There are explanations on his depression, as well as his abusive father, but this picture always feels like it’s missing that one thing to make it compelling to someone who wasn’t a “Sesame Street” fan. There also isn’t as much of a look at Oscar the Grouch as the trailer promised. These things don’t ever hurt the film in the slightest, but i felt that a little more time could’ve been added to the less than ninety minute feature to explore these sides, giving it a wider range of emotional depth. It was cool to see so many of the episodes and scenes that have stuck with me for thirty years, and i would greatly recommend this to anyone inexperienced with how these Jim Henson creations work. It really is a fascinating look to see how physical the part of this eight foot tall bird is for such an aging veteran, but Carol Spinney has no plans to retire anytime soon. As he says in the documentary, “Artists don’t quit painting just because they get old. Why would i quit something that gives me such happiness?” Well said Mr Spinney. You inspire us all to “Push the clouds away”.

 

Kurt Cobain : Montage of Heck

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9/10

21 Years ago, Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of the band at the helm of the grunge music revolution, Nirvana, took his life at the age of 27. The events that led to the depressed state of the musician is still a puzzle that hasn’t been solved more than two decades later. Critically acclaimed documentarian, Brett Morgen (On The Ropes), takes the audience through an artful narration of Cobain’s personal writings and drawings in a life that changed forever when the band became the biggest thing in the world. There is so much excellently done with ‘Montage of Heck’. For any fans of Nirvana, you might be a little disappointed, as this is a look strictly at the life of Cobain. That is one thing that i found refreshing about this documentary. It focuses on one man instead of three when trying to comb through what led to the suicide of one of rock’s most prolific frontmen. Complete with interviews from Kurt’s parents, to Courtney Love, to Kurt’s longtime girlfriend, they paint the clearest picture of a human enigma. Morgen makes some artistic choices that pay off incredibly.He shows us Cobain’s personal still-frame drawings coming to life as a metaphor for the events being narrated over. It gives the picture an almost fairytale-like when combined with Cobain’s narration. The film also takes it’s time informing the viewer on the very emotions that Kurt felt with each passing milestone in his life. Other Cobain documentaries haven’t gone as deep into his journal, as well as never-before-seen photos like this one has. I am a huge Nirvana fan, and some of stillshots had my eyes popping in curiosity as to why they have never made print. The sountrack would normally be obvious in a music documentary about a particular band, but Morgen instead decides to add some creative touches to grunge favorites. He plays ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ as a choir song performed by children, he spins a remix of ‘Heart Shaped Box’ as a piano instrumental, and my personal favorite; recordings of Kurt’s first attempt at crafting songs with only his accoustic guitar and a cheap tape recorder to boot. One particular scene with the ladder has Cobain stopping to answer the phone, and it’s in that authenticity that it never feels like we are watching a movie, but instead right next to Kurt holding the camera. I was so close to giving this film a 10/10, and future watchings may push this film into that immortal territory, but one thing stuck out like a sore thumb in a display of documentary greatness. The film goes into great deal for two hours and twelve minutes, but decides to end abruptly when it reveals that Kurt took his own life. One could interpret that Morgen thinks the audience already knows the story with the after, but i think his legacy post-death is just as important as the story being told. I could’ve used a final word from the people being interviewed, but it never came. Overall, ‘Montage of Heck’ is the greatest musical documentary i have ever seen, and one of my favorite documentaries of all time. Even if you never followed Nirvana, you should see it for it’s peeling of the layers with such a mysterious force who took the world by storm for four flannel filled years. The mystery will never be solved, but Brett Morgen’s patient approach gives the audience the greatest offering of clarity with a film that is a fierce and hammering account of teenage empathy.

CitizenFour

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9/10

Edward Snowden’s eye opening reveals about the invasion of privacies that our very government takes is front and center in this documentary that is presented as more of a real life movie unfolding before our very eyes. In January 2013, Director Laura Poitras was most of the way into making a film about surveillance in the post-9/11 era when she started receiving encrypted e-mails from someone identifying himself as “citizen four,” who was ready to blow the whistle on the massive covert surveillance programs run by the NSA and other intelligence agencies. In June 2013, she and investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald flew to Hong Kong for the first of many meetings with the man who turned out to be Snowden. She brought her camera with her. The film that resulted from this series of tense encounters is one hundred percent breaking news in the history of cinema. As someone who read plenty about the Snowden saga of last year, i found enough in “CitizenFour” to feel like i never heard anything about the story. Poitras has an agenda for the truth, and it’s spellbounding the events she was lucky enough to capture when the camera was running. What was originally refreshing for this documentary as opposed to others, is that Poitras doesn’t need side by side interviews to narrate the story. She lets the lens do the talking, and the reveals are incredible even for someone who knows how dirty this regime can be. I don’t think there is a film this year or this decade that will open your eyes more about the freedoms we are losing. Events like 9/11 made it possible for these higher ups to succeed in getting these laws passed to invade the privacies of e-mail, cell phones, and any form of electronic communication. I won’t ruin the film for those of you interested in checking it out, but i left the theater feeling a little tense, and it’s in that respect that the film is scarier than anything a horror film could ever bring you. Whether you consider Snowden a traitor or hero or something in between, it’s not relevant. The movie is impactful in its immediacy of action needed, and terrifying in its implications. It took a ton of bravery for Snowden to come forward with this information, and the films ending foreshadows that this might only be the beginning. The impact of a movie like “CitizenFour” i believe will last for decades. It’s a film that will never allow you to going back to living with your eyes closed. I commend Poitras and Greenwald for continuing forward in their search for the truth when the walls around them are coming down. The camera work is sharp, the sound is perfect, and the editing deserves a noteworthy praise of it’s own. The e-mails exchanged between Poitras and Snowden are shown during the film and are narrated by Laura herself. The text is shown while different spy agency locations are shown in the background. This gives the audience a feel for how big empowering this problem really is. It would be easy enough to tell us about these places, but Poitras does her homework and shows us that this is one nightmare that extends beyond someone’s dreams. “CitizenFour” is every bit alarming as it is informative. It’s the tip of the iceburg in a discussion about what else might be going on behind closed doors.

Video Games : The Movie

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5/10

Director Jeremy Snead takes us on an 8 bit journey with this documentary about the history of video game culture in America. The first half of the film starts off on a high note with a descriptive albeit brief timeline lesson on the past and present of video game history. It’s in that aspect that the film would’ve gotten a passing grade from me. The film is 100 minutes long, so there is plenty of time to be descriptive through every decade of video game culture. Instead, the second half of the film turns into a commercial with Snead being the biggest salesperson. The documentary has the kind of feel where it’s Us Vs Them in terms of the lovers and haters of this multimedia. During this time, it feels more like a special on the Game Network and not so much a movie/documentary. There is a lot of focus on the future of gaming, and there is nothing wrong with that. But for me personally, i gave the film a chance because i wanted an in depth learning experience on the gaming systems that i grew up with. The timeline focus of the film is also done very sloppy because instead of going chronologically they go back and forth creating a chopped up revision of history. The whole thing just feels unfocused and repetitive by the time the final scenes hit. I would rather know more about the creation of some of these games and less about the growing popularity of gamers by dismissing the sterotypes of them being nerds. If i were to recommend this to one type of crowd it would be for new gamers who picked up their controls in a dedicated fashion over the last five years. Anyone else, this information won’t be anything new or informative to them. This documentary will only give those fans the motivation for them to invest more of their hard earned dollars into a profession that hasn’t even reached 1/4 of it’s technological potential. The touching up of the 8 bit Nintendo games on this feature makes them look better than ever before. It almost doesn’t feel like the same games we used to play with the restoration to the pixelated genre. The narration by actor Sean Astin is done very well with a lot of pie graphs to match his statistics in the opening ten minutes. Astin’s job becomes kind of pointless as the film goes on because the documentary is taken over more by interviews with people who work in the gaming industry slinging mud to the opposite side. There are also appearances in interviews by Zach Braff, Wil Wheaton, and Chris Hardwick speaking on their favorite video game memories. Overall, Video Games The Movie is a lot like my experience with games. The nostalgia factor is nice, but i couldn’t care less about the future of the new technology. The games that will live on forever are the ones that stepped out on a time when the game world almost died after the Video game crash of 1983. This documentary gets a failing grade from me because it has trouble figuring out it’s true identity. I will not leave you the reader going home without a recommendation though. If you can find it, The Discovery Channel released a special a couple years ago called Rise of the Videogame that is leaps and bounds better than this one. Check that out to get a great history on video games that isn’t a war between the companies.

Life Itself

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7.5/10

Film critic Roger Ebert lives again in this part documentary part biography about the life of a man who forever changed the film critic career. First of all, i am not a fan of Ebert’s for unjust things he did while giving his reviews for a couple of films on television for the whole world to see. What he did wasn’t important, but it’s just proof that sometimes we as film critics can go over the line when it comes to hating a movie. I am not foolish for even a second though when it comes to giving respect where it’s due. If it wasn’t for him, i am not sure i would even know or care what a film critic was by the age of 15. Along with his partner Gene Siskel, Ebert became big after winning the pulitzer prize for his work in the Chicago Sun Newspaper and going mainstream with the duo’s TV show. What i really liked about this documentary is a couple of things that you won’t always get from most biographies. For one, the story is told in the present during the final days of Roger Ebert’s life. He pushed through a lot of painful days after losing his jaw and facing several surgeries for Thyroid Cancer. This film by director Steve James is a view from a fan’s perspective. That could usually get old quick, but James spares no expense at the hands of his idol by telling the viewers the whole story. Ebert was at times an ego shovanist who would pout until he got his way at a lot in his life. They also show the outtakes of the pure rivalry between he and Siskel, and those clips alone are worth giving this film a look. I can always look at a biography about a deceased person with interest, but i think it takes a lot more guts to give the whole story even when that person is gone. I also dig how the film will show a clip of a movie he reviewed and then show in text his exact words towards that film. It gives viewers some insight on the films he likes and dislikes and explains to you why. I also learned a lot myself that i didn’t know to begin with including his marriage to a black woman and being welcome into a black family. It was cool to get that perspective from his wife, Chaz and hearing the opinions from the point of view of her family. Ebert served as the first positive white influence for not only Chaz, but her sisters as well. Life Itself is the title of Ebert’s autobiography, and that’s appopriate because the film has on screen chapter wording that take quotes directly from his book. One of those quotes and the sole reason for naming it Life Itself is because he always felt that he was the director, writer and star of the film that was his life. He said he never knew how he got casted for such a big role, but it was the perfect one for him. Life Itself certainly opens up my perspectives about the huge influence he had on not only his readers, but Hollywood elite. Sit down interviews are given by Martin Scorcese, Werner Herzog and Rahmin Bahrani. They paint the picture of a 1960’s film reviewer who was always ahead of his time describing the emotions that he felt when he reviewed a motion picture. Herzog even dedicated one of his films to Ebert’s memory. This is funny because there were numerous times when Ebert openly trashed Herzog as a director, but somehow the two were good friends. Scorsese even states that Ebert knew him better as a director than Martin even knew himself. As if you can’t tell, i definitely recommend this film to not only fans of Ebert but fans of film in general. I think there is a story here that needs to be heard about standing by principles when the big money comes knocking, and appreciating what you have before it’s gone. Life Itself doesn’t just focus on a man’s career. It is a full circle portrait of the way Roger Ebert lived his life, with thumbs up.

The Sheik

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6.5/10

Director Igal Hecht presents to us a documentary on one of professional wrestling’s most polarizing figures, The Iron Sheik. For those who don’t know, Sheik was a hated wrestler during the 80’s for his anti-American character. In these educational 90 minutes, we learn everything from the death threats that the character received to the reasons for his madness in 2014. Sheik is still everywhere in today’s news with possibly the most outrageous Twitter page where he is always saying something with an R rating. I enjoyed this documentary because it is the culmination of 8 years of camera work. The Sheik is followed everywhere from his sad independent wrestling appearances with 100 or so fans to the troubles he had in his own home with family. The arguments with his wife is very tense and at times hard to watch. He suffers through the death of a child and begins down a dark path of drugs that may never find a positive way out. I loved that this wasn’t just a wrestling documentary, and it instead chose to focus a majority of it’s time on the pain mentally and physically that The Sheik suffers through. The documentary showed me that The Sheik might not be as crazy as we thought, and maybe there is some intelligence to the things he does and say. If I had one criticism to this release, it’s the terrible camera work at times. It is a documentary, but a lot of the scenes are very hard to see when following along on the subtitles below. This goes a lot further than out of the room shots because there are scenes where The Sheik is sitting right in front of us and still it’s hard to make his face out. There is also a noticeable gap between the years of 1993 and 2006 in the story. I wish we would’ve learned more about his happenings during this time. Overall, The Sheik is a documentary that is worth a watch for any wrestling fan. I don’t think you have to be a Sheik fan to enjoy this documentary. All wrestling fans alike will laugh and worry for the lead of the picture. If you aren’t a wrestling fan, sadly I don’t see you getting much enjoyment out of this. You have to know the man behind the madness before going in. Otherwise, The Sheik feels like another rambling idiot to you. The Sheik gets a thumbs up from me

Fed Up

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8/10

A gritty and disturbing look into the American food distribution system and the negative results that follow in a descensitized society. Fed Up is a documentary that looks into the FDA and slides aside the curtain to corruption involving bribery from major snack companies, surgery for overweight children who haven’t even hit their teenage years yet, and the things hidden in these junk foods that aren’t always revealed on the label. To me, Fed Up opened my eyes to the horrors of processed foods like Super Size Me did for the fast food industry. It was really impactful to see the kinds of stacked decks that we as people have of living healthy. Director Stephanie Soetchtig and narrator Katie Couric state the facts on sugars and salts that hurt our body through each individual portion, and what they do over a ten year span. I enjoyed Fed Up for how feeble minded they made our food government administration look. The same group who characterized pizza as a vegetable are clearly guilty for not having done enough to give us better choices in the real world, and safer choices for our children in schools across the country. I do believe that Fed Up is one of those films that needs to be shown in schools to act as a backlash against the brainwashing that TV does to young minds who see colorful characters like Ronald Mcdonald or Captain Crunch and don’t have anything to oppose this with because these big name corporations have so much money and time invested in the products they present. The narration by Couric was outstanding and reflects decades upon decades that she has studied on this particular issue. The facts are presented with graphic animations that are made easily enough for anyone to understand and receive an education to the horrors that we are putting into our bodies everyday. I also thoroughly enjoyed the dancing around the issue approaches to these administration executives who were asked questions on what they have done to eliminate sugars from their products. They come across as big wigs who have absolutely zero involvement of presenting a healthy option to their customers and are only interested in loading their wallets even fatter. One thing that did surprise me about this film that i never really took the time to think about was the effects this will have on our military soldiers over the next fifty years. One out of every three children now face obesity and where will that leave the men and women fighting for our country who don’t have the right genes to combat a disease as powerful as obesity? The lone problem i had with Fed Up is that it gives some decent minor arguments on what we can do to combat these processed foods as to bringing them into our own homes, but it never really has a bigger picture plan. The documentary profiles how popular cigarettes were in the 60’s and 70’s and how countries came together and took a stand against what they called “Cancer Sticks”. Instead of offering a commentary for how we can fight this juggernaut, Couric rather states that it’s impossible to take down something so huge. Sure, there are dietary suggestions that the closing credits offer, but i left this documentary feeling like it’s a losing battle that will only get greater as 60% of our country now suffers from diabetes. That is a bigger figure than ever before. Even with that in mind, Fed Up is the single greatest look at the single greatest terror driving up our death rates. Obesity is greater than cancer now, and it’s time we woke to treat these corporations the same way we do the alcohol and tobacco corporations. I absolutely recommend Fed Up to every one. I guarantee you that everyone will learn at least one thing in this documentary that they didn’t know before. After you watch this film, you will fear the many colorful aisles of a grocery store in the same way you fear looking at your own tombstone before you ever die.