American Murder: The Family Next Door

Is 'American Murder: The Family Next Door' (2020) available to watch on UK  Netflix - NewOnNetflixUK

This one is a difficult watch.

The new documentary American Murder: The Family Next Door was brutal, painful and shocking as it focused on the 2018 murders committed by Christopher Watts against his wife Shanann and his two daughters, CeCe and Bella. The film used archival footage from the police, social media and other places to tell the story.

With the use of this true footage that allowed us to see these people, the victim, killer and bystanders, as the investigation developed, this documentary was desperately tough to watch and deeply haunting. There was a truly surreal feel about the film as it jumped around the timeline of events that shocked the community of Frederick, Colorado.

I had not heard about this story, so when the documentary took a turn with a neighbor pointing a suspicious finger at Chris, I was not expecting it. Then to watch this man slowly disintegrate in front of everyone was something to witness.

The documentary, filmed by Jenny Popplewell, had a massive reveal as Chris confessed to his father that he had killed his wife. It had that same kind of shocking feel as the ending of HBO’s mini series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst had. Chris blamed the deaths of the daughters on Shanann, claiming that he killed her after she had killed them.

The posts on social media and multiple text messages and videos told a different story, and it was not too long until he was pointing police in the direction of where the bodies of his family were placed.

Listening to his eventual explanation of what happened was horrendous and heartbreaking.

While I could see how some people could consider this exploitation of a family tragedy, the family of Shanann supported the film and it had a message to present about the violence against women and the use of social media. This elevates the typical true crime documentaries.

This documentary is an important watch, but understand that it will stir up feelings that go all across the spectrum. The unbridled sadness of these innocent lives being ended to the disgust of the evil committed by this man to the bizarre realization that you are watching the unraveling of the case in front of you. It is a powerful doc, but also a truly upsetting one.

Robin’s Wish

Robin's Wish Poster #1Reggie's Take.com

I’m not going too deep into this review. I rented Robin’s Wish, the story of the last year or so of Robin Williams’s life, focusing on the truth of what lead to his suicide in 2014.

The documentary reveals that Robin suffered from an undiagnosed case of Lewy Body Dementia. I had never heard of this before and it was terribly painful to hear about.

The documentary was beautiful, but it was so painful. I loved Robin Williams. He was one of my most favorite performers from Mork and Mindy days. The doc did reveal the inner look at Robin’s spirit and his connection with his wife.

Yet, no matter how beautiful it was, it ruined me. I came out of it down and saddened like I haven’t been in a long time. It made me watch The Princess Bride to get out of the funk that I found myself in.

It is a tough watch. If you are a fan of Robin Williams, it may be worth watching just to see the life of this amazing man and the words of his family and friends about him.

Done. Can’t write more. Love you, Robin.

The Last Ride

Watch! Undertaker: The Last Ride | Season 1, Episode 5 — “Full ...

There can be no denying it.  The WWE is fantastic at creating documentaries.

These docs have been great over the years and many of the tremendous examples can be found on their WWE Network.  However, the most recent documentary series may be the best they have ever done.

The Last Ride is a five-episode documentary series on the career of perhaps the greatest character ever in the history of the profession, The Undertaker.

Now watching : UNDERTAKER THE LAST RIDE : WWEThe Undertaker, whose real name is Mark Calaway, pulls back the curtain of the character, a character that has been protected for decades.  One of the major draws of this documentary was the chance to hear about the career of the Undertaker in the words of the Undertaker himself.

It was more than just a career retrospective.  The Last Ride was an investigation into the psyche of the man, Mark Calaway, and his struggle to find a way to step away from the WWE and go out on his own terms.  He talks about the physical aspects of a life in the world of professional wrestling and how his pride and career determination kept dragging him back to the squared circle.

WWE's Michelle McCool Prepares for Emotional Finale of 'Undertaker ...Each episode looked at a moment of his career and dove into the trials and tribulations of the event.  It is not strictly chronological in its storytelling narrative.  For example, as the last episode was dealing with the internal struggle of the Undertaker deciding if he would return again to Wrestlemania to take on A.J. Styles, they went back to the WWE Attitude era to focus in how the Undertaker’s character changed with the times from the “Dead Man” to the “American Bad Ass” character.

This five episode series has been airing on the WWE Network, concluding this weekend.  The documentary gives us a view of the Undertaker unlike any other moment that we have seen before.  Although he does not come right out to say it, the Undertaker said that he would be retiring from the ring to spend more time with his family and to move into the next phase of his life.

10 Things We Learned From WWE's Undertaker: The Last Ride (Chapter ...If you have ever been a fan of pro wrestling or the WWE, The Last Ride is absolutely a thrilling look into the world behind the camera, and there is no better man to star in the series than the Undertaker, one of the most respected performers in the locker room.

#BlackoutTuesday

Anna Deavere Smith Previews 'Notes From the Field' – Variety

On Tuesday, I participated in #BlackoutTuesday, an online movement I saw Monday night.  Kristian Harloff had posted that shows on his YouTube network, including SEN Live and the Movie Trivia Schmoedown, would go dark Tuesday out of respect for what was going on in the world over the last week.  Upon further investigation on my behalf, I discovered that there were plenty others joining in on #BlackoutTuesday.  

I decided to join in.  I have been watching in horror the events unfolding in Minneapolis and across the U.S. in response to the death of George Floyd and I thought this was a good way to join in.

Tuesday would see me go silent on social media for the day.  That meant no Twitter, Facebook, EYG, Snapchat, TikTok or Hero Games FOrums for twenty-four hours.  That is a chunk of what I do on a normal day.

NOTES FROM THE FIELD – ANNA DEAVERE SMITH PROJECTSHowever, going silent on social media, despite how much time I may spend there in a typical day, means very little.  It meant I couldn’t see the latest insane Donald Trump tweet or the newest TikTok dance.  So what?  The fact was that going social media silent did nothing.  Instead of being silent, I needed to expand my knowledge.  I needed to educate myself.

As a white guy, I would never claim to understand the fears and horrors faced by the black community on a daily basis.  The idea of having to explain to your children about ways that you need to speak to the police, not out of respect but out of fear for your life, is completely foreign to me.  So it was important that #BlackoutTuesday was not just a day off from social media, but that I would spend my day learning.  But how?

That Tuesday morning, I was watching Morning Joe on MSNBC and they had a guest named Anna Deavere Smith, an actress whom I remembered from the movie The American President, speaking about the re-released of an HBO documentary/one-woman-show from 2018 called Notes from the Field.  It was based on a play written and performed in 2015 by Smith.  It discussed issues of race with Smith adapting a series of real-life characters during the show.  Morning Joe host Mika Brzezinski said that the award-winning show would be back on HBO and available on VOD.

Playwright and Actress Anna Deavere Smith's 'Notes From the Field ...And I found my way.

I went to Vudu this afternoon and found the video and rented it.  It was an amazing film.  Anna Deavere Smith was just astounding, showing great range embodying each real life character in each section of the story.  Through her singular monologues, Smith revealed the tragic circumstances of each story.  The presentation of the stories were aided by a stand up bass, some artistic background sets and some horrifying pieces of video featuring the real life people involved in each story.

The stories included examples of police brutality with black suspects.  It spoke about the School-to-prison pipeline and the struggles of children within the classroom.  The story included the tale of Rep. John Lewis and a powerful experience of forgiveness.

Notes from the Field was emotional, powerful and devastating.  It also showed the humanity and empathy of the human beings that Anna Deavere Smith portrayed.  It truly is a must see film.

We cannot let this point in history get away from us.  This must lead to changes to our system, a chance to begin the healing, not just closing our eyes and hoping that everything goes back to normal.  We must not let it go.  This must be a time for the history books.

I should specify that I know that every police officer is not racist.  My best friend for 35 years is a police officer.  There are plenty of good men and women in the police.  It is the system that is the problem.  It must be fixed from within.  This feels like the moment.

 

Documentary

New place for the documentary movies which usually do not feel like they fit with the typical Movie Review categories.

This can be movies or TV series (aka Tiger King)

docmovies

Hoping to develop a specific rating qualifier for this category.  That is yet to come.

Disneynature’s Elephant (2020)

Disney Documentary with Meghan Markle Narration Gets Shredded by ...

Last year, I was a huge critic of the last Disneynature film, Penguins.  It made my worst 25 films of 2018 because of the way they modeled the story.  There was way too much personification and the main characters went through an idiotic situation that had me rolling my eyes.

So now Disney + has released the next Disneynature film, this time called Elephant.

It is wonderful.

Every complaint I had about Penguins was done perfectly well in Elephants. There was some personification in the documentary, giving the elephants names and motivation, but it did not overpower what was happening on screen.  It managed the humor properly and everything seemed to fit.

The doc followed a herd of elephants on their journey across the Kalahari Desert, from the Okavango delta to the Zambezi river and back again.  The herd’s matriarch was named Gaia and we also saw a mother Shani and her son Jomo.  What they do with these characters really work for the film, as does the dangers they face on their trip such as lions and mud pits.  The scene where Gaia goes into the mud to save a young elephant from suffocating in the mud.  That was an exceptional scene that fit into the narration.

Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, is the narrator and does a wonderful job.  She is clear and provides the perfect amount of humor and balance in her work.

The shots in these nature documentaries are consistently amazing and beautiful.  The creators of these docs, even the Penguins one that I disliked, bring unbelievable imagery of mysterious lands with animals that you rarely get to see.

This film was a real return to the entertainment of this series and I was very happy.  Sadly, this would have looked great on the big screen, but, with the Disney + outlet, my guess is that we will not see these released in theaters again.

4.5 stars

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (2020)

Subject of Netflix's Tiger King Has Ties To Pro Wrestling | 411MANIA

I resisted watching this thing for a bit.  However, several friends started talking about it in our zoom meeting, so I decided that I would give it a chance.

All I heard about it was this was a true crime docu-series that could not be described.  People claimed that it was insane and that you couldn’t look away, like a car wreck.  I would say that my opinion was different than this one.  I enjoyed this doc-series a ton, but I kept waiting for that first episode top deliver these shocking moments.  I did not think that was happening.

It definitely happened later in the series.

This followed the story of a man who called himself Joe Exotic.  His real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage and he was a big cat breeder and dealer who ran a “zoo” while he sold tiger cubs to other zoos in the country.

The story also involved Joe’s arch nemesis Carole Baskin, owner of the Big Cat Rescue, who went after Joe for his practices and methods.  The feud between Joe and Carole was a major basis behind the entire series.

There are other individuals included as well.  Jeff Lowe was one of Joe’s partners whose own motives are called into question.  Rick Kirkham was a producer of a reality TV web series featuring Joe.  Doc Antle who was the owner of the Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species, (T.I.G.E.R.S.) of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

This show shows all of these people in an extremely negative light.  It covered the rumors that Carole Baskin murdered her first husband and fed him to the tigers.  Huh?  It was implied that Jeff Lowe may have set Joe up, leading to his eventual arrest.

There is no doubt that this series shows the dirty, ugly side of all of its featured flawed individuals, and it details a story that unfolded over the last 5 years or so that is so unbelievable that if this were a fictional movie, you would have a hard time believing that any real life person would do this.  The cliche “stranger than fiction” was invented for just for this story.

It is definitely compelling and hard to turn away.  It is a reasonable easy binge, time wise, though more difficult when considering the lowlifes involved here.