Tiger King Season Two: Series Overview

3/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

All of the supposed Tiger Kings and Queens are back for a follow up.

The biggest question I have for this show after watching it is did we need the second season at all? What did it add? In many ways, it just showed us more of the same and doubled down on a lot of the themes and narrative through lines of the first season. Including more of the unethical issues that many decried the first series for, to see an example of what I and others are talking about consider the issue of bias within the second season of Tiger King. There are clear heroes and villains in the overarching narrative of the show and this is less to do with who is or isn’t guilty but rather who the public latched on to. Yes, I am talking about Joe Exotic. The second season is incredibly in love with him, and decides to ignore his rather obvious animal abuse charges and instead paint him as some kind of falsely accused, for the murder for hire plot, folk hero whilst painting all of his enemies even the ones not convicted of any wrong doings as villains. You can see why Carole Baskin didn’t want to come back.

In the sense of a true documentary this series is and always has been an abject failure. It does not care about the truth but rather what is the most entertaining narrative, as such it is more akin to reality TV. It is in this sense I come to my review score because whilst this season did not need to exist I did find it entertaining whilst it was on, I enjoyed the roadshow as much as anyone else so whilst I can stand here and say it is bias therefore it is a bad documentary series, I think it is already aware of that and doesn’t care.

Furthermore, in some ways this second season provided comfort to me as we got to see a lot of the worst characters from the first season go to prison, or be on their way there, which restores some of my faith in humanity.

Overall, though it was unneeded and incredibly bias, I did still enjoy my time with the series.

Pros.

Dumb fun

The absurdity

Seeing some of the cruel animal abusers facing consequence

Cons.

The clear bias

It was needless

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Borley Rectory: Animation Makes Everything Creepier

3.5/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

An animated documentary telling the history of ‘the most haunted house in Britain’.

I found this to be quite the frightening watch, the fact it was animated rather than the standard live action documentary really helped to give it a leg up over the competition. In that vein the film offers a number of striking visuals through this medium that stick with you after watching, my favourite and the one I found to be the creepiest would be the ghost man sitting on the little girls bed and turning to look into the camera.

Moreover, I found this to be a good documentary both in the sense that it was entertaining, the learning was fun, but also because it helped me to better understand the haunted geography and landscape of my own country a bit better. Before this I had a base understanding of why Borley Rectory was supposed to be haunted, now I know enough to confidently converse on the subject- as I am doing now.

My one issue with this film would be that it jumped around in time a lot. Now quite a lot of documentaries jump around with time but normally they do it in a linear way as in this happened then this then this, however this film doesn’t abide by that rule and jumps backwards as well as forwards which quickly becomes confusing. This is certainly not the sort of film you can ‘half’ watch as you will soon be lost with it.

Overall, a good creepy documentary.

Pros.

It is scary

The animation gives it an edge

A few good scares

It is interesting

Cons.

It can be confusing

It ends rather abruptly   

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The Sparks Brothers: Committed To The Music

3/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

A look at the career so far of the Sparks Brothers, known more widely as the rock duo Sparks.

This documentary made me aware of and listen to Sparks for the first time so in that regard it is a huge success. I found the documentary to be different to the standard life of x musician fare that often clogs up the genre and thought that this was a breath of fresh air. I enjoyed the more out there and experimental visuals that this film employs to relay its history to us, it made everything pop just that bit more and become more memorable.

I thought the documentary did a very thorough job of covering the lives and careers of the Brothers Mael and its attention to detail really helps to paint a picture for us the audience, helping us to better understand the brothers both as artists and as people. I also enjoyed the various famous faces giving their own stories about how the brothers have impacted them in separate ways. It is clear to see that a personal attachment has been made.

The strongest part of this film is by far its soundtrack. Even if like me you start this film not knowing who or what Sparks is, by the end you will be dancing along. I found myself being given an auditory crash course on all things Sparks as I learnt about the life and times of its members, it was a very effective conversion; like I said earlier, I have since been listening to them fairly often since watching.

My one criticism, and it is fairly large, is that this film is on for far too long. Though I enjoyed the presentation and the soundtrack and the story itself I feel it could have been condensed down. What we are presented with is simply too long, and though I was still enjoying the music by the end my mind was elsewhere.

Overall, a good music documentary that manages to separate itself from the pack, though it could have done with being shorter.

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Operation Varsity Blues: Matthew Modine Rocking The Bowl Cut

Written by Luke Barnes

Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal is a drama documentary film based on real events, told using dramatic recreations and talking head interviews with those involved. The film explores the issues surrounding the college admissions scandal that saw a number of rich and in some cases famous people face jail time after bribing college officials to allow their children entry into the most prestigious universities in the United States.

Much like Netflix’s Fyre documentary this film will see you laughing and taking a small amount of joy out of seeing these privileged people be reminded that the rules do apply to them, and that they can’t just do what they want.

Also much like Fyre this documentary is fairly trashy and salacious, making sure to cram in and shame as many famous faces as it possibly can during its runtime, which is not inherently a bad thing more so it places this film firmly in the category of junk food documentary.

Something that bothered me about this film is the way they structure the ending sequence. As is fairly common practice the ending of a documentary usually features some text about ongoing events or updates that have happened since filming. This film decides to list the legal sentences that each culprit got instead, which is a novel idea, however, where it goes wrong is that in some cases certain people hadn’t been convicted or tried by the time of filming, and as such when the film shows them in the end credits it just says how they pled and not the conviction, which becomes jarring and confusing quickly.

Another thing that is quite confusing about this film is the use of recreations and talking head interviews, as we will be shown the real perpetrators on screen in an image but then for the purpose of the film be shown an actor standing in for the person, as they clearly didn’t want anything to do with the documentary, this again becomes confusing. More so when the film starts to blend the lines of based on true events drama and a standard documentary.

Overall, Matthew Modine sinks into his role as the mastermind of the scheme, Rick Singer and there is a lot of interesting and infuriating fun to be had here, however, several artistic choices hurt the film and I think the concept as a whole should have been better refined and adapted, the talking heads and the recreations together don’t work.  

Pros.

Modine

Trashy fun

A few interesting points raised

Cons.

An incomplete ending

The format doesn’t work as the recreations frequently clash with the talking heads

2.5/5

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Interview With Darcy Weir: Head Writer/ Director For Crop Circle Realities

Written by Luke Barnes

I recently had the chance to chat to Darcy Weir about their documentary film Crop Circle Realities, the film serves to investigate the phenomena of crop circles and tries to suggest possible origin theories for them. We discuss other worldly visitors, UFO’s and of course the actual origins of crop circles, I hope you enjoy!

Q: What word would you use to describe Crop Circle Realities?

DW: Informative


Q: Who is your filmmaking inspiration?

DW: James Fox

Q:  What was the catalyst for you making this film?

DW: I found this story sitting in some hay in England…Jaime Maussan and I had done a couple documentaries together

and I saw how for years since the early 90’s he had been flying over to England to observe first-hand the crop circles as they appeared.

I wanted to find out more about his experience and what he had learned. This led me to meeting Gary King, who was the first person to

lead Jaime Maussan around a crop circle. It was all laid out for me from there.


Q:  Did you run into any stumbling blocks while making this film?

DW: Yes, I was looking for the original video of the Oliver Castle UFO laying a crop circle formation and through Tercer Milenio a Mexican News agency, I was able to obtain it finally.


Q: Do you have any fun on-set stories?

DW: Jaime Maussan fell off his seat at one time because he was startled by a call that he received on his cell phone mid interview. We had to cut that take for sure.


Q: What was your message with this film what were you trying to convey? 

DW: Not all crop circles are manmade, and the ones from an off world source have important messages for mankind. “Much pain, but there’s still time”.


Q: If you could go back in time to when you were first starting out as a filmmaker what advice would
you give yourself?

DW: Don’t be afraid to take chances, connect with as many like-minded people as possible and don’t waste your time on the other ones.


Q: What is the reality of crop circles?

DW: They have been showing up en-masse in the Wiltshire area of England for centuries now. There is a continuity in the messaging there and they will keep coming every year.


Q: If you won an award for the film who would you thank?

DW: My Wife, for supporting me and tagging along on these interview adventures.


Q:  Would you consider doing a follow up Documentary in the future?


DW: Yes, there is still a lot to talk about in terms of important crop circle messages that have shown up.

If you would like to check out Crop Circle Realities then you can find it on various streaming marketplaces, and as always check out my review of it which can be found on my blog right now!

If you enjoyed this review, then please head to my Patreon to support me, I offer personalized shoutouts and the ability for you to tell me what to review next. Check it out!

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Crop Circle Realities: Lights In The Sky

Written by Luke Barnes

Crop Circle Realities is a documentary film directed by Darcy Weir. The plot of the film explores the phenomena of crop circles, and there possible alien connection. This documentary seeks out answers behind the creation of crop circles.

So, I must confess before watching this I had heard of crop circles before, in regard to aliens, but I never knew much about them beyond the basics. Luckily for me this film teaches you a lot about crop circles as a phenomena and is quite accessible in its presentation so everyone can understand and follow what is going on, regardless of prior knowledge.

I think the documentary strives to be informative over salacious, which is always a good thing, more so the film allows you to have fun watching it and feel entertained whether you believe in its central narrative or not.

Moreover, the more conservative run time of this film being only just over an hour allows it to operate at a nice quick pace: feeling like it is hitting on all the major points without feeling dragged out or padded for time, which can often cost documentaries marks.

Overall, a fun and informative documentary that raises some interesting questions and that prompts you to do you own research after the film ends.

Pros.

The pace

The accessibility

A lot of fun

Watchable even if you don’t believe in the central narrative

Cons.

A few ideas get brushed over and could do with a bit more time exploring them

3.5/5   

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Beware The Slenderman: A Look Into The Dark Heart Of The Internet

Written by Luke Barnes

Beware The Slenderman is a documentary directed by Irene Taylor, centring around the internet creepypasta figure of Slenderman, and the real world nightmare that saw two young girls stab one of their classmates multiple times in an effort to appease the fictional being.

I remember when I was a teen and Slenderman was all the rage, it was a huge moment in internet folklore history. I think the idea of a shared communal myth is so fascinating, and that is really what Slenderman is, an idea added to over and over again and turned into something much bigger than it began as.

This documentary is very bleak, but you knew that coming in. Tragic is the word I would use to describe the events that this documentary highlights, it raises questions around how does the content we view affect us on a psychological level and, where is parental accountability when it comes to policing what your kid watches and doesn’t watch?

I think the documentary does quite a good job in explaining what Slenderman is, they also have folklore experts as talking heads to talk about the idea of building and creating myth which I think is a truly strong choice in this regard.

I think using the girl’s families as talking heads to explain the events that transpired is both a pro and a con, it is a con in that there will inevitably be a degree of bias there especially when it is parent child as it is here, however, it is also a pro as it allows us to have a uniquely personal view into the incident.

Overall, a strong documentary that raises a number of good points and provides a thorough and well thought out investigation into internet urban legends.

Pros.

The personal access to the case

A good explanation of Slenderman and the internet urban legend

A number of thought provoking questions are raised

A solid pace throughout

Cons.

Bias creeps in

4/5

Interview With Ross Munro: Writer/ Director For European Tour 73

Hey Everyone! I recently had a chance to interview Ross Munro, the writer director behind European Tour 73 a documentary film with animated elements about Monroe’s family holiday to Europe when he was a child. We discuss, travel, family and Fellini. I hope you enjoy.

Q: If you had to sum up European Tour 73 in a word what would it be?

A: Memories

Q: Who is your filmmaking inspiration?  

A: Fellini for his wild inventiveness and powerfully visual poetic sense combined with his dreamlike sensibilities and almost child-like sense of nostalgia. I grew up going to movies in the early 1970s so the New Hollywood filmmakers like Scorsese and Altman were also a big influence. More currently I’m excited by Tarantino and PT Anderson.

Q: What was your catalyst for making the film?

A: As both my mother and father have passed away, I felt compelled to make “ET’73” as a loving tribute to them and their memories and, in a way, to immortalize this crazy trip they took us all on back in 1973 as it seemed like a seminal event that really defined and brought us together as a family.

Q: If you could go back in time to when you were first starting out as a filmmaker what would be some advice you would give yourself?

 A: I would tell myself to break through the fear that I had about moving forward to make films and that it’s okay to make “mistakes” as they are actually learning experiences that in the long run will make you a better artist and person. Also, try and take a little time to absorb and enjoy the journey of making your films and don’t worry so much about the destination down the road. Also, always try to seek out like-minded, passionate collaborators.

Q: What made you decide to include animation in your film?

A: With “European Tour ’73” we knew from the beginning that we wanted to tell the story of our family’s trip to Europe using every visual element in the cinematic toolbox- along with the core of Super 8mm film that composed the heart of the film, we used stock footage, photos, live action footage that we shot and so animation was the next logical extension of how to tell our story. It was quite exciting to work with the animator on these segments and really added a new, exciting dimension to our film that viewers have repeatedly commented on favourably. I’m actually planning on doing more original animation for our next documentary as well.

Q: How did you decide on the balance between animation and stock footage within your film?  

A: The goal was always to just punctuate our film with the animated segments to add depth and humour and insight to the proceedings- of course once the film was completed I had more ideas that I would have loved to see in the film but, alas, that’s always the case when you look at a finished film: you always see the things you wish you’d included.

Q: What would you say the message of European Tour 73 is?

A: Oddly, I’ve never been asked that before. I’d say the message is to appreciate the time you are gifted on this planet to spend time with your family and loved ones. Even though the film is very joyful I can’t but help to feel also a small sliver of sadness that my parents and my eldest brother Jim- who passed while we worked on the film- never had a chance to see “European Tour ’73” as it’s a testament to my memories of them as much as anything.

Q: Within the family unit how important do you think shared experiences are?

A: I think you can’t overstate the importance of shared family experiences- especially growing up. My parents always strived to raise us in a manner where myself and my five siblings always did things together- the trip to Europe back in 1973 being the highlight of that philosophy. Because of their efforts to have us do things constantly as a family unit, I was able to move on through life having a great relationship with all my brothers and sister- almost like we are friends. This bedrock foundation is absolutely a direct result of my parents notion that we share as much time as possible as a family growing up.

Q: Would you one day take your kids (or potential kids if you don’t have any yet), on the same tour?

A: Not having kids (I guess my movies now represent my children- and how naughty they’ve been let me tell you…!), I’ve never had to contemplate this undertaking but one of the reasons I undertook this movie was also that I was amazed that my parents would actually bring all of us small kids barnstorming around Europe all tightly packed into a camper van for 6 weeks! Also, it seems crazy to me that I’ve never returned to Europe since that trip nearly 50 years ago! My wife, Maria, (who’s also the Producer of the movie as well as most of my past and future movies) and I really want to go to Europe someday soon and we look forward to screening our film in the many countries I visited in the film. This would, in a way, bring the whole journey of “European Tour ’73” full circle.

If you want to watch European Tour 73, it is currently playing on the virtual film festival circuit and will be playing in Canadian cinemas once the pandemic is under control, as always I have a review up on my site now!

Interview With Shaun Rose: The Star/ Co-Writer And Director Of Making And Unmaking

Written by Luke Barnes

Hey Everyone! I recently had the chance to have a chat with Shaun Rose, the writer/actor/director behind Making And Unmaking a very personal documentary film that chronicles Rose’s experiences within the film industry around the film of him making Upstate Story. We discuss the creative process, whether the toll of Hollywood is worth it, and mental health. I hope you enjoy.  

Q: If you were to sum up Making and Unmaking in a word what would it be?


A Therapeutic. Another word would be extensive or exhausting.

Q: What was your message with this film? To inform? To share?


A: Initially it was just me trying to get so many feelings out in the midst of production of ‘Upstate Story’ as they both overlapped. I was in a deep crisis period. I will say that many who have watched the film consider it educational in regard to the creative process. Not just the no budget tier of filmmaking. 

Q: What was the inspiration or catalyst for you making this film?


A: Just wanting to heal or get better. My mental and physical health were in pretty rough states due to so much I was going through. I wanted the film to act as a sort of journal or diary where I could vent. 

Q: Would you describe the struggle you and other filmmakers go through to get films made as worth it?


A: Most of the time. There are horror stories out there. Mainly in Hollywood where filmmakers have expressed regret over certain projects. For myself, I have no regrets at all. It might be hard and at times frustratingly difficult, but the finished product has always been worth the hardship. 

Q: What advice would you give to young filmmakers working in the industry right now?


A: Keep writing and filming. There are a plethora of affordable cam options out there for you. Even modern cell-phones are being used frequently. Go for whatever you want to do. 

Q How did you find the production of Making and Unmaking different from that of your other projects?


A: I’ve only experimented with the documentary form in college so that was a departure from the norm. Many years in between. I also just started using DSLR’s too for the documentary so that was a learning curve. I was late to that party.

Q: Did you find the format of Making and Unmaking, freeing or constrictive?


A: Very freeing, but at times overwhelming. As a documentary, I feel the possibilities are endless or more flexible. Just stick to the truth no matter what. It’s the editing that becomes hard. Trying to keep the story moving along all the while keeping a smooth edit going is where it gets tricky. We only had 1 cam to use during the interview sections, so we had to film each interview 2 times at different angles. From there, try to splice it together. Trying to place the music by Jake was also tricky. Considering it’s a documentary, it was especially tricky. I just took his tracks and placed them in a way to compliment as opposed to overwhelm. I hope I did him justice.

Q: If you won an award who would you thank?


A: My children. Adrianna and Keenan. My co-creators on the film. My Father, Andrea, Jake and Charles. My family, critics who gave my work a chance. A bunch of my friends who have been very close to me in my darkest times. People to confide in during both personal and creative rants. And those that have passed who made a strong impact on me as a person. Gracelynn, Sue and Darlene. 

Q: What are your closing thoughts on the film industry in general?


A: I’m concerned about where it seems that comedy is headed. For centuries, comedy has largely consisted of others laughing at the misfortune of others. It’s always been offensive to some degree or other. There are so many different realms of comedy as well and nowadays, I fear that we’re heading into territory that minimizes what we can laugh at. Perhaps I should say censorship in general. 

Q: If you could go back in time to when you were young and just starting out in the film industry, would you tell yourself to go for it, or to rethink?


A: Go for it. It’s difficult, but getting your works out there, seen and appreciated, makes all the struggle worth it. 

You can check out Making and Unmaking right now on Youtube, and as always you can find a review of the film on my site!

Making And Unmaking: A Frank Conversation With A Filmmaker

Written by Luke Barnes

Making and Unmaking is a candid documentary short film directed by Shaun Rose. The film sees Rose open up and discuss various triumphs and sets backs he had whilst making his feature film Upstate Story.

If you have an interest in the production side of film, then I would say this is a must watch.

Those of us who have made a film before, are presented with an earnest and frank conversation that we all know well, making a film is one of the hardest things a person can do. As Rose details the events surrounding the production of the film, he paints us a vivid picture of the place his life was in, his fight to get this film made. Touching is not enough to describe this film, but as someone who has made short films before (and would dread the pressure of making anything longer), I can say that this film is incredibly relatable.

Moreover, if you have never made a film before this is still immensely enriching, as it provides a very honest look into the sort of things that filmmakers go through, and what life is really like on a film set.

Overall, this is a very special film in a lot of ways, and it brought a tear to my eye. A beautiful story that needs to be heard.

Pros.

The honesty

The raw emotional weight

A useful educational tool

Very relatable

Cons.

Those not into film production may find less to be interested in here

4.5/5