Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11

Today is the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks that hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, along with the downing of United Flight 93. Anniversary is not the right word since that indicates celebration and this is more about remembrance. September 11, 2001 changed the United States forever.

Peacock streamed a documentary on their streaming service called Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11. Responses from survivors, family members, first responders were recorded a year or more after the events of the day. These people were given the opportunity to speak about their experiences and their feelings dealing with 9/11, talking to a camera inside a small plywood booth video box.

Directed by David Belton and Bjorn Johnson, some of the original interviewees returned now to reflect on what their lives have become and how the world has changed.

Narrating the events of the day through the words of the real people involved brought a power to the stories that are already one of great impact.

Living in the Midwest, the effects of 9/11 were still felt, but they were modulated by distance. I remember the day clearly, as I was substituting at the Middle School in computer class. A co-worker had come in and told me about the first plane striking the building, and it was surreal. We spent the day watching the news in the classroom, including seeing the second plane strike the tower. The day was wild and chaotic, even in the little town of Iowa where I lived. I can’t imagine what it was like in New York City or in Washington D.C.

This documentary really shows the world what it was like on that day for real people. In their own words, it allowed us to understand just a little but more about the pain and tragedy of the day.

The reflection on how the country has split over the last two decades since the attack is another powerful moment of the doc.

It is sad how our country has squandered the connection that our country had after the attack. We were all Americans and we were all New Yorkers. Now, we are so divided that some are in fear for our democracy. How can we get back to the memories of how we once were.

The ending of the doc brought us some hope, some acknowledgement that we can survive the pain or the loss and still be okay.

Make your life extraordinary and fill it with passion,” -Donn Marshall, husband of Shelley Marshall, a victim of the Pentagon attack.

More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story

I watched a documentary tonight on Vudu that featured a look at the life, mainly during his adult life in entertainment, of Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, famed comedic actor from Happy Days, Sanford and Son and, most notably, The Karate Kid series of films where he portrayed the iconic karate master Mr. Miyagi.

The first half of the documentary focused on Morita’s young life, including his time in the Japanese internment camps during World War II. The doc then started to examine his early days in Hollywood, with his appearances on variety shows and his stand up comedy. The film told the story of how Pat Morita became the owner of the diner on Happy Days, Arnold. Some of the prejudice of the entertainment industry was shown, including the difficulties of a person of Asian culture getting jobs on television and the movies. The film showed clips of Mickey Rooney’s desperately stereotypical, leaning towards racist, role in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, one of the most infamous performances of all time as well as the portrayal of Genghis Khan by, of all people, John Wayne.

Overcoming these stereotypes to join Happy Days, Morita’s career continued on with some choices that may not have been the best choice made. We saw interviews featuring Henry Winkler, Marion Ross, Anson Williams, Donnie Most, Larry Miller, Tommy Chong and James Hong.

However, everything led to the role that would change his life, that being the Oscar nominated role of Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid films. They cover the story of how Morita earned that role and they went into specifics about the way it was filmed. We saw interviews with co-stars Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, Sean Kanan and Martin Kove.

Even more interesting was the struggles Morita faced later in his life with alcoholism and the battle he eventually lost with the disease. There were several powerful moments in recollection by his third wife Evelyn Guerrero. I did not know much about the actor’s personal challenge when come to drinking, something that he had done his entire life.

Pat Morita was loved by his family and friends and he left a huge legacy with one of the great characters of the 1980s cinema. He had a life of pain and struggle, but he still was able to find success. He seemed to be a kind man, and wouldn’t it be nice to say that about all of us?

Marvel’s Behind the Mask

Disney + has a wide variety of entertainment options on the streaming service. And Marvel makes up a huge section of the site. So it only makes sense to do a documentary on the background of the comic titan.

Behind the Mask is the story of Marvel, specifically with their attempted history to increase diversity. The doc is slight, but there are some cool facts featuring many of the breakout characters from Marvel Comics including Spider-Man, Black Panther, The Fantastic Four, Luke Cage, Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales and Captain Marvel.

The idea that Marvel was a leader in pop culture embracing diverse characters of color was part of the hour plus doc. They spoke with some of the greats in the history of Marvel, including some archived footage of Stan Lee that I had never seen before, talking about how these characters are relevant and relatable to the readers they are.

The film talked with such notable creators such as Chris Claremont, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Joe Quesada, Darryl McDaniels, Larry Hama, Gerry Conway, Ann Nocenti, and Christopher Priest.

Though the doc does not shy away from some of the more controversial parts of the time, it does not focus too deftly on it either. It is basically what you would expect from Disney + when talking about it current top cat in way of IEP.

The doc ends with the reading of one of the more famous Stan’s Soapbox columns that would appear in the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins every month. Stan would write about all sorts of relevant material and civil rights was one of Stan’s deepest held beliefs.

The documentary was enjoyable and a comic fan, especially a fan of the Marvel style of comics, can’t go wrong with this film. It is not a giant time commitment and it gives voice to some of the most powerful comic creators available today.

The Dissident

This is the latest documentary from the Oscar winning director Bryan Fogel. It tells the dramatic story from 2018 about the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Turkey by agents of the Saudi government.

This documentary was extremely powerful and disturbing. The film presents its story much like a political thriller, with mood-inducing music and dramatic interviews of the people involved.

The main arc of the tale is told through the eyes of a couple of the major people involved. First , there was Omar, a Saudi national and activist, who had befriended Khashoggi. Together, they had engaged in an effort to counteract the Saudi’s propaganda techniques on Twitter and other social media platforms.

Second main person, bringing this murder plot its human connection, is Khashoggi’s fiancé Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting outside of the consulate for Khashoggi on the fateful day. Khashoggi had gone to the consulate for paperwork allowing the pair to be married and Hatice waited hours outside for him to return. He never did.

The most difficult part of the movie was the audio transcript that had been uncovered that spelled out the murder in specifics, including the record of the use of the bonesaw to cut up the body. Even in written word, this created a horrid picture of what had happened that will stick with a viewer.

This documentary feels very relevant in the world today. Not only because of the alleged involvement of the Saudi government and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, but also for the attempt from the Saudi government to silence the free speech of a journalist. It is important to understand how easily freedom of speech can be removed, especially when you have attacks on the media designed to undermine what the media said or to dub them as “enemies.” It feels as if it is a short step from that to this.

And after all of the film is over, the text at the end that tells you where everything stands is infuriating. It makes you wonder what the important things in the world truly are.

The Dissident is an important story told in a engaging and professional manner. It has a powerful, human story that should move right thinking people emotionally. Fogel has another substantial and forceful doc.

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

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.


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.



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)


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.