Friday, March 24, 2017

UHF

I will never forget the first time I saw Weird Al Yankovic’s cinematic debut in the classic 1989 satire, UHF (trailer). I slept over at a friend’s around 1998/99 and we walked a few blocks to a nearby Blockbuster Video and rented it along with a couple other flicks for a movie marathon that night. For some reason, it tickled all the right funny bones for me and it ended up being one of my favorite comedies. When it hit DVD a few years later I indulged in it at least a couple more times over the years.

It finally hit BluRay a couple years ago in time for the 25th anniversary of the film, and I did buy it upon initial release but it sat in my backlog until last weekend. It was not my backlog I pulled it out of to watch however (though I did for the extras over the next couple days), but at a different friend’s place instead. We were having dinner at Hu-Hot and while waiting by the grill we noticed one of the chefs must have had on a Weird Al Pandora station and we continued to nod along enthusiastically to a few of his vintage satirical songs until we nearly simultaneously blurted out, “we’re watching UHF tonight!”

Do not go into UHF expecting an original plot, since it is as slapstick as it gets and is more of a means to an end to work in all the spoofs. Weird Al says exactly that in the commentary track. Yankovic portrays one George Newman. Along with his friend, Bob (Davie Bowe, not the singer) they are both constantly between jobs until they are gifted a fringe UHF TV station on the verge of bankruptcy. Despite their attempts at original programming, the future was looking dire for channel U52 until their janitor Stanley Spadowski (Michael Richards) lucks into hosting the children’s playhouse show and it becomes a smash hit. Local major network bighead RJ Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy) is the antagonist for the film and attempts to make sure that he squashes all of U52’s momentum and put them out of business for good.

Like I said, the plot is extremely basic and plays out rather predictably, and the satirical jokes during the course of the film are hit and miss. I am still a fan of the Newman’s breakfast of choice being the hotdog-Twinkie-dipped-in-milk combo. The jokes and gags that hit really hit good, and once UHF starts to insert their one-to-two minute spoofs throughout the film, I was on board with nearly all of them. Conan the Librarian and Raul’s Animal Kingdom are my two favorites of them while Spatula City and Weird Al’s version of Rambo also get high marks from me. I lost track of how many spoofs are in here, but I would estimate that of UHF’s 97 minute runtime that nearly a third of it is dedicated to about a dozen spoofs of various TV shows and movies. Almost all of them are winners and you can tell this is where the heart of the movie is, and knowing Yankovic’s style of comedy it is readily apparent where he put most of the work in this film.

The BluRay carries over all the extras from the DVD release, and adds in a new feature that is a 51 minute panel from a recent ComiCon. Al is joined by fellow comic Jonah Ray, and the two mesh well together as they reminisce over Al’s career and answer questions from the fans. They only touch on UHF briefly for a couple of times in the panel as they spend a lot more time talking about Al’s many musical endeavors over the years. It is an entertaining panel and well worth checking out. There are only a few other extras, but do not miss out on them as UHF has one of the best takes on a deleted scenes feature I have ever seen. Instead of playing them all individually, Al introduces a 19 minute feature where he admits all the deleted scenes are miserable to watch in their entirety and he plays clips of them while narrating in between why they were so abysmal and had to be cut. It is very well done so do not miss it!

Aside from a music video and a poster gallery there is a commentary track that is required viewing. Like the deleted scenes, this is one of my all time favorite takes on a home video audio commentary track! Al is joined by director Jay Levey throughout the feature, but Jay is noticeably quiet throughout and Al pokes fun at him and eventually gives him the mic to have his say as Jay stumbles through some choice words a couple of times in one of the best moments of the commentary. Al came to the commentary with his research and has a ton of facts about the cast and crew and constantly cracked me up at what they had to do to cut costs since they were so under budget. Michael Richards joins them on commentary for about 15 minutes before suddenly leaving in a moment that I am still shaking my head over, and a couple other minor characters make brief appearances in the commentary too. Of the three plus years of doing this blog I do not believe I have raved this much about a commentary track before, so believe me when I say there is rarely a lull and that you absolutely have to check out UHF’s commentary track.

There was a small part of me going into watching this again thinking this film would not hold up since it was probably over 10 years since I last seen it and some satires do not stand the test of time, but I was glad to be proven wrong. If satires/spoofs are not your thing you probably will not get that much out of this, but if you are a fan of that style of comedy then this is right up your alley and you will not be disappointed. And once again to hammer home the point, make sure to check out the deleted scenes and commentary track!

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

3
12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Rounds 3: Lockdown
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: The Killing Joke
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Christmas Eve
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
The Condemned 2
Creed
Dirty Work
Faster
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Gravity
Hercules: Reborn
Hitman
Ink
Interstellar
Jobs
Man of Steel
Marine 3 & 4
Mortal Kombat
The Replacements
Rocky I-VII
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
San Andreas
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Steve Jobs
Source Code
Star Trek I-XIII
Take Me Home Tonight
TMNT
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
Veronica Mars
Wild
The Wrestler (2008)
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Interstellar

As of this writing, we are about two and a half years removed from when Interstellar (trailer) first hit theaters in 2014. I remember eagerly anticipating this film as I am a big fan of the director, Christopher Nolan. His previous few non-Batman films like The Prestige and Inception were quite the mind-benders that warranted repeat viewings so I could pay attention to catch all the little details I missed the first time around. When I saw the initial teasers for Interstellar I knew I would be in for a treat when Nolan would finally unleash a sci-fi epic!

Interstellar has an unusual mini-documentary style opening where elderly are being interviewed about what led to a mysterious blight on Earth, with frequent dust storms and the rapid extermination of crops until the only crop left is corn. Interstellar vaguely gives clues about what caused this calamity, but disappointingly never flatout says what happened to bring on the blight. Instead, the grander mystery at play is trying to find an exit plan to save Earth. That is done by having NASA’s Professor Brand (Michael Caine) recruit Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to join his team of astronauts at scouting several potential planets in distant solar systems that show signs of being able to sustain human life.

It is not as simple as that plot synopsis. If you are use to Nolan films, get ready for his standard three hour feature. That is not to the film’s detriment however, because like previous Nolan films, there is so much at play, and so much to take in that the lengthy runtime is over before you know it. Cooper is not instantly on board with NASA however, as the film’s first act is about everyday life for Cooper and his two kids, Murph (Jessica Chastain/Mackenzie Joy) & Tom (Timothée Chalamet/Casey Affleck). The production company went to great lengths with practical effects to give a glimpse of what living in a rotting world is like. While Interstellar has impeccable visual effects for all of its breathtaking scenes in space, its combined use of practical effects for the scenes on Earth made it a shoe-in for an Oscar win for best visual effects.

When Cooper eventually joins up with NASA, the film takes a different turn as a space survival/rescue mission that I had no idea how it would play out. Professor Brand and his daughter (Anne Hathaway) lay Earth’s survival plan out there in a way that spells out the science in simplistic ways for the rest of us scientifically-challenged folks. There are occasions where the astronauts will have brief moments of getting into the nuts and bolts of the science to explain various plot points, but it is never for any lengthy duration and they provide ample context so it did not blindly fly over my head.

There is a point during the space mission where things take a noticeable change in trajectory and leads to a thrilling final act. Coop & Brand are faced with many hurdles that they must overcome in their mission, and even on this repeat viewing I forgot about many little moments that impacted them along the way that were just as engaging to relive. While Coop & Brand are off in space, the film has a vital side story playing out back at home on Earth with Professor Brand and Coop’s children. For the final act Interstellar is constantly bouncing back between both Earth and Coop to show how while both scenes are taking place light years away, they are still having a instantaneous impact on one another in a way that I am not even going to attempt to explain. All I can say is that I am glad I finally got around to rewatching this because there are so many little factors at play that made it more convenient to piece the film together the second time around.

I would be lying if I said I did not have any qualms with this movie. I understand the direction Nolan wanted to go in with the documentary-interviews in the film, but they felt too ham-fisted and in-your-face. There were a few other too sudden moments that did not sit well with me. Professor Brand’s final scene took a turn for the sake of a turn that I was not a fan of. I also did not particularly care for Coop and Murph’s final scene together in the film and how dismissive Murph was of Coop. It kind of felt a little more justified on my second viewing, but the way it all went down comes off as absurdly rushed. In the end though, I am splitting hairs as these gripes do not take a lot out of how much I enjoyed Interstellar overall.

The BluRay I have came with a second disc of extra features adding up to roughly two and a half hours of bonus materials. I will give props to Warner Bros. for having subtitles on the extras since it is not that common among most movies. The primary bonus feature is The Science of Interstellar, a 50 minute showcase on the current technology from NASA that is already out there trying to achieve what Interstellar showed, but on a smaller scale. It is very well put together, and presents the possibilities of time travel with modern tech and how the Kepler telescope is out there already scouting planets that can sustain human life.

On top of that there are 13 much shorter features available ranging from 2 to 13 minutes in length. Many of these go deep into the nuts and bolts of the production and special effects processes and can be a bit much to take in if you are not into those fields. If I were to recommend just two of those 13 however then check out Life on Cooper’s Farm and Shooting in Iceland. The former shows how the filmmakers lucked out in picking the only spot in Alberta capable of growing corn for the film and how it did not cost them a thing since they made their money back selling it. The latter presents the many different environments of Iceland and why it worked for shooting scenes that take place on other planets.

I am still as high on Interstellar as I was after my initial viewing when it hit theaters. It appears to be a divisive film whenever I bring it up to people in recent months with people both loving it and knocking it. If you are a sci-fi fan and need a break from Star Trek and Star Wars, then grab a six pack and a bowl of popcorn and marathon through this, Gravity and Arrival for three of my personal picks for top shelf recent sci-fi.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

3
12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Rounds 3: Lockdown
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: The Killing Joke
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Christmas Eve
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
The Condemned 2
Creed
Dirty Work
Faster
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Gravity
Hercules: Reborn
Hitman
Ink
Jobs
Man of Steel
Marine 3 & 4
Mortal Kombat
The Replacements
Rocky I-VII
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
San Andreas
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Steve Jobs
Source Code
Star Trek I-XII
Take Me Home Tonight
TMNT
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
Veronica Mars
Wild
The Wrestler (2008)
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Angry VideoGame Nerd Volume 9

It has been a couple years, but I am back with a blog on Cinemassacre’s latest collection of game videos from James Rolfe reprising his persona of the affable “Nerd” in Angry VideoGame Nerd: Volume 9.

James has been significantly dialing back the output of his AVGN videos in recent years, which is why it took more than two years to release his latest DVD collection when before he was releasing them on a near annual basis. If you are unaware of the AVGN character, James Rolfe has been portraying him since 2004 and the persona is rather self-explanatory as he spends each episode bashing notoriously awful videogames. Most episodes are straightforward reviews, but some Rolfe has done his share of indie filmmaking and will get ambitious with some episodes. Usually his Halloween and Christmas themed episodes will mix in guest characters and an over-arching plot. As I have stated on previous AVGN blogs, you can find all previous AVGN episodes streaming for free on the AVGN website, but I appreciate having the option to get them on DVD too.

AVGN Volume 9 is a 2-DVD set that has 17 episodes on disc one, and two and a half hours of bonus features on disc two. The first 12 of the 17 AVGN episodes consist of the ‘12 Days of Shitsmas’ special Rolfe ran a couple years ago. He pumped out a new AVGN episode each day for 12 days straight, which seems miraculous considering his rate of releases since. It is worth noting that about the first 8 of these 12 shows are more like mini-episodes that average around three or four minutes in length. That is probably for the best as most of these shorter reviews are mostly garbage licensed games worthy of only a few minutes of coverage like a SNES Ren & Stimpy game, Alf….in Master System form and yes, even a Mary Kate & Ashley title for the GameBoy Color. I was surprised at how detailed Rolfe got with his video for a 2600 game based on the adult comedy, Porky’s so do not overlook that one thinking it is simply a shallow Atari game James is getting in some easy jabs with.

The last three Shitsmas videos are the best however, and they are closer in length to a standard AVGN episode. I was completely unaware of the Hyperscan before witnessing the ‘Nerd’s take on it, and coming out of it I am now in the camp that it looks like we have a contender that could give the R-Zone a run for its money. Universal Theme Park Adventures is the first GameCube title to get the AVGN treatment, and it was a delightful experience to see a lot of classic Universal properties get showcased in an awful GCN launch game. Finally, LGN Video Art is an awful TV-art studio accessory that hit in the 80s from the ‘Nerds favorite videogame publisher, LJN, and the ‘Nerd makes sure it gets the proper LJN treatment.

The final five episodes are standard full-length AVGN episodes and consist of somewhat newer games than what we are accustomed to the ‘Nerd covering. There are a couple exceptions. There is a previously unreleased Super Famicom game, Hong Kong ‘97 that is so awful and shallow that I am aghast that Rolfe was able to get an enjoyable full-length episode out of it. The forgotten 16-bit platform, the TurboGrafX gets its first coverage from the AVGN with an episode dedicated to its poor rendition of Darkwing Duck. Seaman gets the honor of being the first Dreamcast game to get reviewed by the AVGN, and this Leonard Nimoy-narrated adventure made for a one-of-a-kind episode that was quite a hoot to see how it threw the ‘Nerd for a loop unlike any game he played before.

I have played both The Crow and Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, and I can attest to how truly godawful both games are, especially Sub-Zero. I have seen commentaries from Rolfe before where he admits he will occasionally embellish on some games for a more entertaining episode, but I can vouch he is not pulling any punches on either of these. His experience with Sub-Zero brought back many evil memories of that game, and that episode in particular features some of the loudest gamer rage from the ‘Nerd yet! The episodes on disc one wrap-up with a mammoth half hour production on a smattering of Mega Man games for the AVGN’s 10th anniversary special. This episode features the ‘Nerd time traveling to past episodes forewarning himself not to play anymore Mega Man games, only to see the episode culminate with him popping in Mega Man Soccer (yes, this happened!). Rolfe said in this volume’s commentary that it eclipsed the ROB episode as the single episode that he invested the most production hours in and it shows since it is easily the best episode on this volume.

Disc two features two bonus mini-AVGN episodes that debuted as an exclusive during fellow character reviewer, Pat the NES Punk’s annual NES marathon. The reviews in question are for Adventure Island and Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat. Nerdy Challenges is James Rolfe and fellow producer/guest star Mike Matei commentating for a half hour on all the AVGN episodes in this volume. They have a ton of production facts, especially when it came to detailing the toils they persevered through in order to pull off the special effects in the Mega Man episode. There is plenty to take in from the duo here as they go out of their way to explain why they went with some shorter episodes on this volume, and how they took longer AVGN hiatuses so Cinemassacre could take a break from AVGN and focus on side projects like Board James.

James has a couple recurring extra features that I always enjoy returning here such as his latest TV/console setup that features a contraption of wires that I do not dare attempt and a montage of outtakes. A new feature that is divided in three parts that lasts about an hour and a half combined is the AVGN Script Collections. These are essentially Mike & James revisiting scripts for older AVGN episodes they have not seen in year as the two reminisce over memories and production facts on the early episodes. I am glad it is split up into three parts, as it seems indulging these in half hour chunks is the way to go.

Volume 9 is a big step up from Volume 8 with a ton of quality episodes on here that were better then I remembered the first time around. I thought a lot of those early Christmas episodes were going to be easily skip-worthy, but while shorter they are still as entertaining as the standard-length episodes. The full-length episodes on here are some of the best yet in the AVGN catalog with the Mega Man and Sub-Zero episodes getting the highest marks from me on this DVD. If you are into the behind-the-scenes process like I am then you will get a lot out of bonus features disc as the Nerdy Challenges feature and the three-part Script Collections feature combine for roughly two hours of engaging production commentary. You can check out all the AVGN episodes on this DVD on the Cinemassacre website, or you can head on over to Amazon and order the DVD to round off your AVGN collection.

Past TV/Web Series Blogs

2013-14 TV Season Recap
2014-15 TV Season Recap
2015-16 TV Season Recap
Adventures of Briscoe County Jr: The Complete Series
Angry Videogame Nerd Vol 8
Angry Videogame Nerd Vol 7
Mortal Kombat: Legacy - Season 1
OJ: Made in America: 30 for 30
RedvsBlue - Seasons 1-13
Roseanne – Seasons 1-9
Seinfeld Final Season
Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle
Superheroes: Pioneers of Television

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Wrestling Road Diaries Three: Funny Equals Money

Longtime readers of this blog may recall how big a fan I am of indie comedy wrestler, Colt Cabana and his pair of self-produced documentaries, The Wrestling Road Diaries (WRD). For those unaware, they are about life in the ring and behind-the-scenes at the arena and on the road as Colt and two guest wrestlers tour a string of indie wrestling shows. The first WRD guest starred Bryan Danielson/Daniel Bryan and Sal Rinauro and had the theme of hard work paying off while having good, clean fun on the road. The sequel does a 180 and it features Big LG/Luke Gallows and Cliff Compton/Domino, who have a darker sense of humor, and it features a edgier take of life on the indie scene.

That brings us to Wrestling Road Diaries Three: Funny Equals Money (trailer). This installment has Colt more in his wheelhouse as the notorious comedy wrestler of RoH teams up with a comedy wrestler from TNA, Grado along with a fellow comedy wrestler from Japan, Kikutaro. I have always been bummed out about how Colt never took off in WWE after being a fan of his comedy in RoH for several years prior. He had bad timing as Colt made his way into WWE developmental the around the same time Santino Marella and Hornswoggle started on the main roster, and by the time Colt got called up, Santino and Hornswoggle proved themselves as WWE’s go to comedy acts and there was no room for Colt’s shtick, which I felt was always more original and better than what Santino and ‘Swoggle brought to the table.

I have only seen just a little bit of Grado in TNA before since I do not watch nearly as much of that promotion as I use to, and I have never seen Kikutaro in action before. WRD3 makes sure to give proper introductions to Colt’s travel buddies to bring everyone up to speed on the duo. Grado’s entrance is pretty memorable and it instantly won me over as I could not get it out of my head for days. I also quickly grew to like Kikutaro’s brand of comedy slow-motion antics that are part of his matches. I dug an early scene of Colt’s apartment/warehouse/podcast studio, which is jam packed with wrestling memorabilia while Kikutaro and Grado record promos into Colt’s soundproof booth/mini-fridge.

WRD3 follows the trio to three indie shows for the promotions of AIW, PWC and Freelance Wrestling. At the Freelance Wrestling event, the gang is joined by other indie sensations Joey Ryan and Dick Justice. When this was filmed, Joey Ryan was in the midst of a modicum of viral fame with anew move in his repertoire gaining nationwide attention. They make sure to touch on that here and build off of it in this indie show in one of the standout scenes from the documentary.

Highlights of the matches are shown as they tour while Colt, Grado and Kikutaro reflect back on the match on what did and did not work. With the art of comedy in wrestling being a central theme here I got a lot out of the three breaking down their matches and how they are constantly trying to work in improv into the matches based on spontaneous chants and callouts from the crowd. Some of their improv works really well, like when Grado gets a girl to upstage Tracy Smothers in an impromptu singing competition to the crowd’s delight. However, there is also the opposite shown when it does not work out in one case where Colt got irked at a pair of fans who were being obnoxious and ruining the show for everyone else despite Colt’s attempts to silence them. Hearing Colt after the show visibly pissed at how the match went down is a potent scene that I do not catch too often of the talent letting loose when things do not go as planned.

Like the previous WRD films, I enjoy the road traveling scenes in between shows where the guys tell stories and justify what their style of humor and how comedy will always have a place in wrestling. It is obvious these three care about their craft, and are not only there for a paycheck or to fill a slot on a show. WRD3 does not overstay its welcome and is the shortest of the three films clocking in at one hour and 22 minutes.

If I only had one qualm about WRD3 it is that the road traveling scenes seem dialed back a little bit compared to the first two films, and I would have liked to see a little bit more stops and scenes of the trio in between shows. If you pay the extra $5 for the bonus disc, that gripe is resolved with 30 minutes of additional scenes that consist of mostly stories and anecdotes from Colt, Grado and Kikutaro in the car. There is a lot of good tales to indulge in such as Grado’s love of flying, Kikutaro recalling his stint in XPW and Colt dissecting his feud with Tye Dillenger in OVW and how his TNA tryout was a flop. There is also a gem with Colt filming a promo with a security guard hyping up a mysterious wrestler known as “Fireman Chris” that you just have to see to believe.

Also on the bonus disc is a half hour episode of Colt’s podcast, The Art of Wrestling, where Colt brings on Grado, Kikutaro, Dick Justice and Joey Ryan throughout the episode to talk about their time on WRD3. Finally, there are two matches in their entirety as extras that were filmed while the gang was on tour for this documentary. The first is Colt & Grado teaming up against the Four Star Heroes while Kikutaro faces off against Dick Justice and Darin Corbin in a triple threat encounter. For $5 the extra hour and a half of content the bonus disc contains is well worth it and gave me a lot more value out of my purchase.

I think I would rank Wrestling Road Diaries Three in the middle of the pack, with the first one being my favorite. I appreciate the lighthearted theme this time around as it is much needed after witnessing some of the sick shenanigans that Compton and Gallows brought into the fold in the previous film. I like most of WWE’s documentaries, but if you are only accustomed to those style of wrestling documentaries, than I highly suggest trying out Colt’s trio of films as it is a much needed change of pace and shows you what it is like for wrestlers who are trying or just are not meant for the WWE and why they still perform their craft.

Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 3
Biggest Knuckleheads
Bobby The Brain Heenan
Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes Yes Yes
Dusty Rhodes WWE Network Specials
ECW Unreleased: Vol 1
ECW Unreleased: Vol 2
ECW Unreleased: Vol 3
For All Mankind
Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection
Its Good to Be the King: The Jerry Lawler Story
Ladies and Gentlemen My Name is Paul Heyman
Legends of Mid South Wrestling
Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story
Memphis Heat
OMG Vol 2: Top 50 Incidents in WCW History
OMG Vol 3: Top 50 Incidents in ECW History
Owen: Hart of Gold
RoH Supercard of Honor V
RoH Supercard of Honor VI
RoH Supercard of Honor VII
RoH Supercard of Honor VIII
RoH Supercard of Honor IX
RoH Supercard of Honor X
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Sting: Into the Light
Superstar Collection: Zach Ryder
Top 50 Superstars of All Time
Tough Enough: Million Dollar Season
True Giants
Ultimate Fan Pack: Roman Reigns
Warrior Week on WWE Network
Wrestlemania 3: Championship Edition
Wrestlemania 28
Wrestlemania 29
Wrestlemania 30
Wrestlemania 31
The Wrestler (2008)
Wrestling Road Diaries Too
Wrestlings Greatest Factions
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2016
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2016

Monday, February 27, 2017

OJ: Made in America 30 for 30

The 89th Oscars were last weekend, and aside from its flub of a Best Picture announcement, I was also surprised at one of its winners that I will be covering here today. I always give ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series some love each year in my annual TV recap blogs. 2016 saw ESPN go with their most ambitious 30 for 30 project yet: a five part series covering the entire life of OJ Simpson. The bulk of the feature is dedicated to the controversial murders of Ron Goldman and OJ’s ex-wife Nicole Simpson. This documentary also covers the many racial injustices on the streets and in the courtrooms of Los Angeles from the prior decades and how they ultimately proved to be a major factor in the outcome of the Simpson/Goldman murder case in what many dubbed as “The Trial of the Century.” This documentary had the catchy, but effective name of OJ Simpson: Made in America (trailer).

Each part of this five part series is just over an hour and a half. So add it up and it is nearly eight hours all together! I watched the first two parts around Christmas, and blitzed through the final three a few days ago. Part one is all about OJ growing up and his football career in USC and for the Buffalo Bills. Once OJ exploded into success for the Bills, Made in America made sure to point out how OJ was one of the first athletes to transcend race with his use of the line, “I’m not black, I’m not white, I’m OJ.” Part one went on to cover all his successful endorsement deal he had with Hertz and other companies and how he pursued films in the NFL offseason. Part one definitely made it come across how much of a superstar OJ was in the 70s. Part one also gave some time to the civil rights movement and race riots of the 60s and 70s that was a prelude of things to come later in the series.

Part two is about life after football for Simpson. A fair amount of time is covered here showing his post-football endeavors such as carrying the Olympic Torch, Monday Night Football announcing and his middling acting career until finally getting a hit with the Naked Gun films. The feature shows around this time how he lost his two year old by drowning and friends interviewed stating how he was never the same afterwards and it was catalyst for his first divorce. Made in America then focuses on his marriage with Nicole Simpson and chronicles how it quickly devolved with many domestic disturbance 911calls played from Nicole and interviews officers on the scene from the incidents. A lot of part two has scenes covering more and more examples of racial injustices from this time, with the Rodney King beating of 1992 being the most prevalent example and how a lot of racial tension was building from the past few decades until this point.

Part three kicks off with police officers describing the crime scene with the bodies of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. Adequate time is shown how evidence quickly leads to OJ being the prime suspect and the infamous Bronco chase that transpired about a week after the deaths. For those not up to speed on one of the world’s most notorious car chases, ESPN did another masterful 30 for 30 on that event and other noteworthy events in sports happening simultaneously. That 30 for 30 is called June 17th 1994 and is available on Netflix streaming which I highly recommend giving a viewing.

Part three then proceeds to cover the early stages of the near year-long trial by introducing the key players for the prosecution and defense legal teams, many (but not all) who are on hand here 22 years later to be interviewed for Made in America. Having their insight and reflections added a lot to the documentary. I understand why Cochran and Shapiro did not appear here, but to still get the thoughts here from Marcia Clark, Mark Furman and others all these years later added a lot to the film. Made in America stressed how difficult it was to find an impartial jury due to the nature of events leading up to the trial, OJ’s superstar nature and because of the aforementioned decades of racial tension in LA.

Part four is devoted to the trial and all the pivotal moments throughout it. I was in middle school when the trial was in process, and was shocked from how much I remembered of the key moments highlighted here such as the crime scene glove not fitting OJ’s hand, Furman’s controversial testimony and how the TV and tabloid media turned the trial into a circus among itself. A lot of time is dedicated here on how OJ’s defense team picked away at the prosecution’s case, with Furman being the obvious weak link due to his history. I will give Furman credit for defending himself as best as he possibly could in the new interviews he did for the film, and the documentary made sure to get across how he was the weak point of the prosecution’s case that played a big factor in the outcome.

The final part of the documentary opens with the interviewees recalling how surprised they were at how short the jury deliberations lasted. The not guilty verdict clip is shown in its entirety, along with many reaction shot clips from across America that indicated how much of a racial divide there still was (is) in the country. I still vividly recall getting dressed in the locker room of 8th grade gym class when our teacher came in with the news of the verdict. This moment is also why so much time was given in the earlier installments to the many past LA racial injustices because some of the jurors interviewed in this documentary stated their justification for the verdict was payback for those decades of past wrongdoings.

After winning the case, the feature shows life after the trial for OJ as he tried to keep living his life while enduring the countless wrath of America taunting him wherever he went. Only a short time is given to the civil case that OJ lost, but the film made sure to point out how its outcome forced OJ to move out of LA and into South Beach, Florida. The series made it clear at this point that OJ embellished his infamy by this point with a more flamboyant lifestyle to stay in the news with his controversial music videos and the “If I Did It” autobiography. Finally, until this documentary I was never perfectly clear on how the memorabilia theft charges OJ was involved in and how it lead to him being currently incarcerated. Even the interviewees here state it is a very convoluted case, but the film breaks it down and got across OJ’s involvement. People involved in that incident were interviewed to lay how it all went down and why all the charges got piled on OJ and it resulted in a judge sentencing him to the current 33 year prison sentence he is serving. People interviewed state that the sentencing ranged from fitting to ridiculous to “white justice” payback.

There is a little over an hour worth of archived ESPN extras. The primary extra is a 43 minute interview with Chris Meyers and OJ a few years after the trial with Meyers grilling OJ about the criminal and civil trials, the bronco chase and life after the trial. There are several Sports Center montages of the anchors breaking down the latest from the trial, and two segments from The Sports Reporters where their panel dissects the initial murder discovery and then react to the verdict of the trial. Of these extras the only one worth checking out is the Meyers interview as it was very fascinating watching OJ’s responses at the time and standing his ground while Meyers held nothing back.

It should not come as a shocker when I say this documentary is a must-see. Made in America is easily the stud in the entire 30 for 30 catalog, which is saying a lot because it is in very good company with many other standout pieces. Props to filmmaker Ezra Edelman for Made in America’s ‘Best Documentary’ Oscar win last weekend. I highly recommend setting the eight hours aside to watch Made in America. It is available for streaming on Hulu right now and the discs are available on Netflix. If neither of those options works for you, most retailers are selling the entire five-part series as a DVD/BluRay combo pack for around $20.

Past TV/Web Series Blogs

2013-14 TV Season Recap
2014-15 TV Season Recap
2015-16 TV Season Recap
Adventures of Briscoe County Jr: The Complete Series
Angry Videogame Nerd Vol 8
Angry Videogame Nerd Vol 7
Mortal Kombat: Legacy - Season 1
RedvsBlue - Seasons 1-13
Roseanne – Seasons 1-9
Seinfeld Final Season
Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle
Superheroes: Pioneers of Television

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ultimate Fan Pack: Roman Reigns

On this blog before I have made past references to how my friend Matt and I both have a tradition of intentionally ‘gifting’ each other movies we know we will despise. This past Christmas Matt did not disappoint and delivered big time with WWE’s first DVD dedicated solely to their roster’s biggest douchebag, Roman Reigns. This DVD is not your traditional full blown WWE Home Video release. As you can see in the picture, it is a pack-in with a Roman Reigns action figure and official Roman Reigns biker glove. The DVD is titled Ultimate Fan Pack: Roman Reigns (trailer).

Since this DVD is just a simple pack in, it does not get the standard WWE DVD treatment. Instead of the standard size DVD case, the Ultimate Fan Pack is just a simple cardboard, fold-over sleeve that I have seen other past promotional DVDs or video game demo discs usually come in. The main menu is just a still graphic with only a ‘play all’ option. Most other WWE DVDs have animated menus with background music, the ability to pick a match to instantly jump to and subtitles for the commentary, all three are absent in this budget release. Also absent is the WWE Home Video ID number, which is usually found on the spine of WWE’s BluRays and DVDs. It is like WWE does not want to recognize the Roman Reigns Ultimate Fan Pack DVD as on official release. I do not blame them, after all take a look at that cover art where Reigns has his trademark grimace on his face where he looks like he is about to pop out of your TV, knock you out and steal your girlfriend all while Michael Cole is screaming, “Here comes the Big Dawwwwg” in the background.

The only thing that can be considered a positive is that I did not suffer terribly long as this DVD has a runtime just under 68 minutes. It consists of only five matches from early 2013 to early 2015. The first bout was when people kind of dug Reigns as the heavy for The Shield where him and Seth Rollins won the tag team titles from Daniel Bryan & Kane at Extreme Rules 2013. I forgot how much I enjoyed Team Hell No as this match was near the end of their successful run as a tag team and you could tell they were clicking and having fun out there. The next match was from an episode of Smackdown later that year where Reigns faced off against my favorite big man, Mark Henry. Henry is at that gatekeeper stage of his career to put over other up and coming talent and successfully elevate them up the card. He did that here against Reigns, just like he did against Braun Strowman on RAW a couple weeks ago.

From 2014 there is a battle royal from an episode of RAW, and guess who wins? That aside, what I was more intrigued in was the participants and who is not with the company anymore and how others have significantly changed since then. All three New Day members are in the battle royal in their personas before they started teaming for example. The oddball match of the DVD is from a Smackdown later in 2014 where Reigns goes up against Bray Wyatt and the match is thrown out after Luke Harper & Erik Rowan interfere just a few minutes in. I am guessing Reigns did not handpick this selection of matches, with the exception of this final match just so he could troll us all because it is his 2015 Fast Lane victory against Daniel Bryan. I had to indulge this awful Daniel Bryan loss already on his BluRay, and I had to shake my head just as much again after witnessing this outcome. For what it is worth, it is Reigns’ most watch-able match, but we all know who to thank for that.

Unless you have a kiddo that is a diehard Roman Reigns fan, avoid the Ultimate Fan Pack: Roman Reigns DVD at all costs! If I had to make my own ultimate fan one hour Roman Reigns DVD, I would have the only match be Roman getting obliterated by Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 31. The rest of the hour would just be this fun facts video, this Reigns botch montage, and him stumbling over his awful promos that consisted of references to Looney Toones and Jack and the Beanstalk. That one hour DVD would be vastly superior to this pile of trash, believe that!

Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 3
Biggest Knuckleheads
Bobby The Brain Heenan
Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes Yes Yes
Dusty Rhodes WWE Network Specials
ECW Unreleased: Vol 1
ECW Unreleased: Vol 2
ECW Unreleased: Vol 3
For All Mankind
Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection
Its Good to Be the King: The Jerry Lawler Story
Ladies and Gentlemen My Name is Paul Heyman
Legends of Mid South Wrestling
Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story
Memphis Heat
OMG Vol 2: Top 50 Incidents in WCW History
OMG Vol 3: Top 50 Incidents in ECW History
Owen: Hart of Gold
RoH Supercard of Honor V
RoH Supercard of Honor VI
RoH Supercard of Honor VII
RoH Supercard of Honor VIII
RoH Supercard of Honor IX
RoH Supercard of Honor X
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Sting: Into the Light
Superstar Collection: Zach Ryder
Top 50 Superstars of All Time
Tough Enough: Million Dollar Season
True Giants
Warrior Week on WWE Network
Wrestlemania 3: Championship Edition
Wrestlemania 28
Wrestlemania 29
Wrestlemania 30
Wrestlemania 31
The Wrestler (2008)
Wrestling Road Diaries Too
Wrestlings Greatest Factions
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2016
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2016

Monday, February 6, 2017

Gravity

I mentioned last month in my blog for Christmas Eve that I am a fan of films that spend a majority of their time in a single setting. I am also a fan of sci-fi. 2013’s Gravity (trailer) is what happens when you have a sci-fi take on that trope, but with the single setting being the deceptively large, vast, darkness of space.

Gravity is about astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) surviving in space after a freak space debris collision knocks out their space shuttle and kills the rest of their crew in the opening minutes. From there, Stone and Kowalski must find a seemingly impossible way out of their predicament and form an exit plan to make it back to earth and overcome all kinds of insurmountable odds that space throws in their way.

This was one of the few films I went out of my way to see twice in theaters. I wish I could say that my reason for doing so was because Gravity broke new walls for state-of-the-art special effects and cinematography. It came as no surprise that nearly all of Gravity’s seven Oscars it won were primarily for technical awards because of how spectacular it looked. No, my reason was because one of the friends I saw it with happened to consume a few too many beverages in anticipation and got a little too excited throughout the film. Buddy, if you are reading this I do not want this to come off as me calling you out, because I still look back at that day and laugh from an unforgettable theatrical experience. That personal anecdote out of the way, part of me still wanted to take it all in again on the big screen alone. I am glad I did because Gravity is a showpiece film that benefits from being on the big screen and having a loaded surround sound setup.

Clooney and Bullock play off each other tremendously well and the two have an obvious chemistry that is clicking on all fronts. When their mission takes a turn about a third of the way into the feature, Sandra steps up her role going forward as the novice astronaut who has to pull it together in order to get back home. Stone reveals some personal anecdotes about herself throughout the film, and the film succeeds in relating to her survival being a rebirth for herself in a few pivotal moments of the film. If there was a part of the film I would have to nitpick, it is that Bullock has a couple monologue moments that come off cheesy than the inspirational feelings I think she was going for. However, looking back on it I am thinking that is now by design because Bullock’s character was not one I imagined would give those speeches at the beginning of Gravity, but her new initiative dug out new feelings in her that were not quite as polished and resulted in the intentional stiff delivery. Maybe I am over-thinking it, but if that is the case, then count me in and ignore my ramblings in this paragraph!

The high-tension moments when Ryan and Stone have to deal with space debris sailing by them at instant-death speeds, and the duo dodging and weaving from all kinds of explosions that result from the space debris provide many proverbial ‘edge-of-my-seat’ moments that still hold up today four years later. The cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki and the team of composers and sound mixers earned their Oscars here as the scenes are indescribably powerful as a result of their masterful work. The entire film looks simply dazzling on my ancient, 10-year old HDTV on BluRay. If Gravity gets a 4K UHD release, it would easily be one of the first films I pick up on that format whenever I make the jump to a 4KTV.

It comes as no surprise with Gravity having such standout special effects, that there a ton of extra features devoted to it. The primary one is titled, Mission Control which is a nine-part feature totaling an hour and 46 minutes, which is about 18 minutes longer than the actual film itself. Each aspect of effects like cinematography, camera work, costume design, CG and the score receive their own feature dedicated to how the team pulled off their stunning audio and visual milestones. There were a few moments where the interviews here went deep into the nuts and bolts of the process and parts of it went over my head, but I was expecting that to happen a few times given its length and the ground it covers. As comprehensive and well produced Mission Control is, I find it hard to recommend to watch all of it due to its daunting length. It is broken down by nine parts, so you would probably be best by picking the parts of the production process that intrigue you the most.

Shot Breakdown dissects five scenes in the film and explains the special effects for each of them. It clocks in at 37 minutes and probably best applies to only special effect junkies. There is also a 22 minute documentary I would recommend checking out called Collision Point that is about raising the awareness of space debris and what is being done to help reduce it in the future. Finally, there is an eight minute short film, along with a two minute introduction by the filmmakers I highly suggest checking out. If you recall, Bullock’s character has a radio conversation about midway through the film with another party who does not speak English. This short film reveals who that person is and what they were in the middle of when they start talking to Ryan.

Gravity is my favorite film of 2013, and I am kicking myself for waiting this long to finally get around to watching the BluRay. It is unlike any other sci-fi movie before it. If this one went underneath your radar then, by all means please give it a chance and make sure to crank up the volume and be prepared to be stunned.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

3
12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Rounds 3: Lockdown
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: The Killing Joke
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Christmas Eve
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
The Condemned 2
Creed
Dirty Work
Faster
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Hercules: Reborn
Hitman
Ink
Jobs
Man of Steel
Marine 3 & 4
Mortal Kombat
The Replacements
Rocky I-VII
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
San Andreas
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Steve Jobs
Source Code
Star Trek I-XII
Take Me Home Tonight
TMNT
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
Veronica Mars
Wild
The Wrestler (2008)
X-Men: Days of Future Past