Category Archives: Documentary

Elstree 1976 (2015) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Elstree 1976

Director: Jon Spira
Writer: Jon Spira
Stars: Paul Blake, Jeremy Bulloch, John Chapman, Anthony Forrest, Laurie Goode, Garrick Hagon, Derek Lyons, Angus MacInnes and David Prowse

I found this documentary a little hard to come by but finally tracked down a copy and after enjoying the David Prowse documentary “I am your Father” last year I have to admit that I was looking forward to this one just as much. I thought the trailer was interesting and the movie’s poster was pretty cool. Sadly “Elstree 1976” becomes a dull and uninteresting documentary about lesser known actors and extras reminiscing about their time on the set of Star Wars (1977) and how making the film affected their lives.

The focus on these extras at times was uninteresting but there was some anecdotes that worked and  particularly from Jeremy Bulloch, Garrick Hagon and David Prowse. I knew Angus MacInnes was part of the Rebellion’s attack on the Death Star but the rest of these extras rambled on a bit about playing squash with Kiera Knightly’s father and another explaining taking too much Valium for a backache. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy a documentary about ordinary people with an extraordinary story to tell and I thought this would work here but unfortunately the focus is on more mundane details. The Stormtrooper who hit his head on the bay doors said he couldn’t see out of the helmet and claims there are other “actors” out there claiming they played that particular Stormtrooper. Talk about fighting over the crumbs.

Although a welcome relief to see Jeremy Bulloch I was little confused on why he was appearing in a film called Elstree 1976 when in fact he didn’t enter the fray until a few years later whilst filming The Empire Strikes Back in the late 1970’s. But nevertheless perhaps the film maker needed another “big” name in there along with David Prowse who we get to see in that infamous clip from A Clockwork Orange and his experience with Stanley Kubrick, which I found a little amusing.

The part of the documentary that really sunk this was asking the question on “What are you doing now?” which was painful to watch at times as most of them didn’t have really anything interesting to say. I felt these people either didn’t want to admit that 1976 was the highlight of their showbiz career and the others who went into full flow were slightly deluded. Don’t get me wrong I am not having a go at these extras, but a little perspective is missing here. If the truth be told, after the tales of Star Wars, you just lose interest in their stories as it becomes desperate in one of the extras saying they had bit parts in Indiana Jones and Superman films and became depressed because it never led to bigger roles and a female extra who apparently appeared in the Cantina scene dated Superman himself Christopher Reeve whilst filming Superman. Wow.

Overall Elstree 1976, didn’t deliver and part of me takes responsibility for that as I expected more. I thought this film would use stock footage quite a bit during this period and there would be some reveals about some of the more known actors. Sadly the interviews became self indulgent and quite bluntly sad. I have enjoyed some rather great documentaries about Star Wars in the past from “The People vs. George Lucas (2010)”, Empire of Dreams: The Story of the ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy (2004) and I Am Your Father (2015). This film doesn’t come close to these and sadly I cannot recommend watch this.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (2017) Movie Review by Darrin Gauthier

JIM AND ANDY

Director: Chris Smith
Stars: Peter Bonerz, Jim Carrey, Randall Carver 

Plot:  A behind-the-scenes look at how Jim Carrey adopted the persona of idiosyncratic comedian Andy Kaufman on the set of Man On The Moon (1999).

Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes

IMDB Score: 7.9

Why I watched it: I’m a sucker for the making of, when it comes to movies.  I love hearing stories about the art and the business of making films and hearing about the characters in front and behind the camera.

Thoughts: People forget that the film “Man On The Moon” was not a huge hit, Andy Kaufman was a weird and different comic, no one was sure what his deal was and then you add Jim Carrey playing him and all beats were off.  I had read stories about Carrey really getting into it with Jerry Lawler and that Carrey had gone full method in his performance.

What I liked: This is a different documentary, I’m not really sure what the purpose is.  Showing backstage filming from a movie that’s 18 years old is odd in it’s self cause the only reason to show it is to show how far Jim Carrey took the role.  It’s an interesting watch but for me it’s a character study of Jim Carrey, not so much Andy Kaufman cause the focus is on Carrey playing Kaufman.

Now the fun it this is that the studio never released this cause it made Carrey look like an asshole (his own words) so of course this is a fun behind the scenes look that we don’t often get.  Carrey doesn’t seem to care and that seems to be his thing now cause publicly Carrey appears to be a train wreck, he’s done strange things in real life and on social media and he seems not to care.

The thing that got me was seeing a man playing a guy playing another guy cause Tony Clifton shows up which is a character Kaufman use to do and become him, so Carrey does that to.  I think it’s important to know Andy Kaufman was way ahead of his time and also he was a comic’s comic, many people consider him a legend where the casual fan saw him as a strange guy. So Carrey is meta before meta was a thing and in full method acting mode, look many actors have done this but Carrey really pushed it.

I enjoyed listening to Carrey honestly it sounded like someone in therapy, you have to give him credit cause he’s honest here and it doesn’t seem like he’s playing a part while talking about it.  Half of the film is modern day Carrey talking about what we’re seeing and explaining his thoughts and why he did what he did.  It’s an insight into not only acting but celebrity.

What I didn’t like: I wish we would have gotten a bigger scope here, no one else talks about this, we see director Milos Forman and the cast in footage from the making of the film but no one talks about it now like Carrey does so to me this documentary is more about Carrey than the film or Andy Kaufman. Carrey talks about his film career and other movies and references them, so it’s more about him.  Which is fine but the title of the film is Andy & Jim.

Also seeing him being this honest at times it’s hard to watch cause you wonder what Carrey’s state of mind is like, he’s gone through a lot of weird shit and the funny thing is even though he talks about being famous and other stuff I don’t think I learned anything new about him.  When he talks about not wanting to be Andy anymore you just wonder if anyone pulled him aside and said look it’s a role you’re still you.  They also side step the tole it took on him and his personal life.  This is a short film at just over 90 minutes, I felt we had some other things to focus on but it seemed clear Carrey had control over the content.

Final thoughts: I very interesting film, seeing an actor but himself under the microscope was fascinating to watch both Kaufman and Carrey are different cats that for sure.  One thought kept going through my mind, can you imagine Kaufman on social media.

Rating: 7/10

Atari: Game Over (2014) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

ATARI GAME OVER

Director: Zak Penn
Stars: Zak Penn,  Joe Lewandowski,  Robert Rentschler

Having just reviewed “Silicon Cowboys” I felt I should revisit a film documentary from 2014 “Atari: Game Over” the film documents the rise and fall of the legendary video game makers and the myth that the video game adaptation of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial that was widely considered to be the worst video game ever made was responsible in the company’s downfall. The truth being that there was multiple reasons why Atari collapsed.

“Atari: Game Over” is an interesting documentary examining the rise and fall of one of the most famous computer companies, but there is also another story running parallel throughout the duration of the video game “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” being buried deep in a landfill since September 1983. It is Zak Penn (Director) who covers the story of the cartridge burial in the Alamogordo landfill in New Mexico and hopefully discovering it’s resting place with the help of landfill’s employee Joe Lewandowski. Lewandowski is almost certain that beneath the surface of the waste land lies the cartridges so much so that he has created an intricate map that reveals the location of where they’d be.

The documentary also explains in great detail why and how the “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” game was created and why it is regarded as one of the worst video games ever made. Howard Scott Warshaw, who was a video game programmer and creator for Atari during its heyday, created the console’s classic games like Yars Revenge and the video game adaptation of Raiders of the Lost Ark. According to the film, Warshaw was  tasked with creating “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial”, a task he was only given five weeks to complete because Atari wanted a release for the forthcoming Christmas period.

Howard Scott Warshaw is interviewed throughout this documentary and you really feel for the guy’s downfall in this situation. Warshaw is a very intelligent man who clearly enjoyed his time at Atari and enjoyed programming in general. When he explains the process and task at hand, you understand the pressure he had over him with creating an adaptation of a very successful movie and having the blessing of the movies Director Steven Spielberg who also tried and tested the game and approved its release.

“E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” video game had its flaws and lack of story behind it other than the story of the movie. Throughout the documentary we are shown interviews with all different people who worked in the video game industry explains the flaws in the game and also asking video game enthusiasts who portrayed the game as being to complex and difficult to understand.

To be fair to the filmmaker, we get to watch the excavation of the hunt for the video cartridges and discover whether or not the myths of the thousands of these games where in fact buried in a landfill and more specifically in this exact spot (Alamogordo)

I enjoyed the movie and although it may be misleading right up to its conclusion, you have to realise the number of other problems Atari was facing at the time. Enormous profit declines, due to the fact of the over saturation of the video gaming market but also Atari kept funding advertising money in their flagship console “the 2600”, in a time where it commanded the market share and the next generation consoles Nintendo and Sega were already on their way among the Commodore Amiga, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC 464 all being released shortly after this time period. Warshaw, among over 7,000 other employees, were eventually let go in the mid-eighties, following continuously abysmal performances and small profits.

I enjoyed this era in video games and it’s development in entertainment. Watching Silicon Cowboys earlier spurred me on to watch this documentary again as it had the same feel to it and really involves all the main players in the storyline. If you haven’t watched “Atari: Game Over” yet I would highly recommend it if you want to reminisce over video games of yesteryear or if you are a current gamer wanting to discover the birth of video games then this is the film for you. Highly recommend.

Silicon Cowboys (2016) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

SILICAN COWBOYD

Director: Jason Cohen
Writers: Jason Cohen,  Steven Leckart
Stars: Rod Canion,  Jim Harris,  Bill Murto

Having been born in 1976, the silicon cowboys story was only just about to begin for Rod Canion, Bill Murto, and Jim Harris. Home computers and Consoles have always been in my life from my uncles Atari 2600 to my very first computer in 1988, the ZX Spectrum 128k+2. It’s hard to imagine today that back in the late 1970’s there was one company leading the way in business and about to be personal computers…..International Business Machines Corporation (IBM)

The story and the dream of Canion, Murto and Harris’ having an idea of a Compaq portable computer at a Texas diner in 1981 would soon see themselves battling the giant IBM, for Home Computing supremacy is one story that so few have realised. Thanks to filmmaker Jason Cohen we get to witness first hand accounts of Compaq’s incredible journey from idea to conquerer through the Texan entrepreneurs behind Compaq.

I’m glad Cohen made this movie as Rod Canion, Bill Murto, and Jim Harris don’t roll off the tongue as frequent or as naturally as Jobs, Gates or Zuckerberg. None of these three have the same persona, character or magnetism as the later but this is a story of a little company taking on the giant that is IBM at their own game and for that they deserved their moment in the spotlight. It also reminded me of another independent movie I had watched a few years ago Calle “Atari: Game Over” that was in the same era of technology.

From a personal point of view, I worked for a sub contractor for IBM from 1992 to 2000 and knew the rivalry between both companies growing up in my teens. It was satisfying to finally see and understand how that came about and how it ended for both companies. IBM had been a global giant throughout the 60’s and 70’s without conflict, confrontation and a competitive market. By 1980 though, several cloning companies began to sprout up which at first didn’t bother IBM as they held all the cards on compatibility and finance.

IBM only really began to take notice when Compaq’s very own portable computer could run IBM compatible programmes and what really infuriated the giant company was their very own portable computer couldn’t run their own software that was designed for home PCs, whilst Compaq’s could.

“Silicon Cowboys” was an enjoyable 82 minute documentary that really dug deep into the minds and scenarios Compaq had gone through between 1981 and 2002. It appeared all the main players where interviewed from both IBM and Compaq’s past and the film didn’t at any point take sides and every story had a balanced insight on how both companies ran their business.

It was interesting to see the early days of their latest releases and how they presented their products in an event that is more a common theme in today’s market of Apple and Android products. There was also some amusement in watching businessmen trundling through airports with their “mobile device” that was the size of a small suitcase and also a really funny advertisement from Rod Canion and his crew “rapping” to their latest release. The film also serves as a historic perspective of the past 30 to 40 years in development of home computing and how Compaq slotted into the evolution of the PC.

If you are old enough to remember the  days of personal computing in its infancy I would recommend watching this historical insight as the journey is fascinating and inspiring to an interested audience. All three of the men who created Compaq give an honest and emotional reflection on that journey and you can connect and understand some of the sacrifices some of them made to be successful.

“Silicon Cowboys” ends on a rather damning conclusion to what happened to both companies with Compaq merging with HP to become the largest company and manufacturer in personal computers in 2002, whilst IBM, the one time giant of the computing world ceased to manufacture home computers in the same year. A highly recommend piece of historical film making from Jason Cohen.

Back in Time (2015) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

BACK IN TIME

Director: Jason Aron
Stars: Bob Gale, Steven Spielberg, Michael J. Fox, Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Alan Silvestre

Back to the Future isn’t just my favourite Time Travel movie. It is one of my favourite movies of all time. The movie itself has inspired movie makers and fans for over 30 years now (Yes we are in the Future) and continues to entertain new generations to the original movie made back in 1985 and it’s two sequels (1989 & 1990)

The Documentary “Back in Time” reminds us of a time when writer Bob Gale and Filmmaker Robert Zemekis tried pitching the story to all the big studios with non of them interested in making a movie about “Time Travel” it’s very hard to sell a story about a mother who falls in love with her own son in 1955’s Hill Valley (Disney wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole) infact “The Bobs” only had one supporter of the project and that was Steven Spielberg who in his words said the movie and it’s story was “lightening in a bottle”

Back in Time really pulls all the stops as arguably the definitive documentary of the time travel series with just about everyone involved. (Well apart from Crispin Glover who played George McFly and Tom Wilson who portrayed Biff Tannen in the original movie and Eric Stoltz, who we’ll get to in a moment)

Bob Gale on countless interviews and documentaries has explained the inspiration for the story coming across one of his dads old college yearbooks and discovering his dad was class president and this made Gale think if he would have been friends with his dad if they went to the same school at the same time. Gale would then let us know there was previous and numerous versions of the time machine before he and Zemekis settled on a Delorean.

There is also interviews from the cast from Michael J Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Claudia Wells, James Tolkan and Donald Fullilove who explain their experiences in making the movie and how it had changed their lives forever and when posed the question whether or not they would do a part four, well lets just say some of the answers to that question where surprising.

When Universal came calling to take the project Robert Zemekis was 6 weeks into filming when he sensed the humour in some key scenes weren’t working with the actor playing Marty McFly at this point the one and only Eric Stoltz. Robert Zemekis stated Stoltz was a fine actor and admitted it was one of the hardest decisions of his life to replace him with Family Ties actor Michael J Fox (Who was the original choice to play Marty, but due to scheduling conflicts at the time couldn’t get their man)

The first half of this documentary was really interesting and in-depth if you haven’t seen any of the other documentaries on the franchise (The 2003 DVD Release documentary covered all 3 movies in the same fashion) then you will enjoy this. The 2nd half of the documentary focuses on the effect the Movie has had on fans, filmmakers and charity organisations. The segment of the doc was humbling at times when you see how much time a devotion some fans invest in to have their own time traveling delorean and I have to admit and admire these people who have nailed the details of the car right down to the time circuits and flux capacitor.

Director Jason Aron puts together a really interesting documentary on one of the most iconic movies made in the history of film and even though if you are a fan of the movies and you have watched countless “making ofs” you will still enjoy the up to date instalment and to be honest its always nice to see Fox and Lloyd reunited in some fashion and I have to admire their enthusiasm even 30 years on and appreciate what that movie did for their careers.

From a music point of view we get to see Huey Lewis interviewed and he explains how the big hit of 85 was written specifically for the movie “The Power of Love” and you can sense his excitement even to this day to be involved in the soundtrack to the movie. I have always been a fan of Alan Silvestre’s work and even more so in Zemekis films. The score to Back to the Future is as important as any of the characters and it was interesting to hear from the composers point of view on how he put the music together for his audition in such a short space of time (pun intended)….and as they say the rest is history (pun intended…again)

Don’t get me wrong, if you haven’t watched Back to the Future (GREAT SCOTS!) this isn’t the documentary for you as this is a fan fest of everyones favourite time travel movie. But if you are a fan of the franchise you will enjoy and perhaps pick up some little nuggets of information in there you may not have been aware of. Highly recommendable.

Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

TURTLE POWER

Director: Randall Lobb
Writer: Randall Lobb
Stars: Peter Laird,  Kevin Eastman,  Mark Askwith

Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a definitive a history of the Heroes in the Half-Shells as you are going to get. This documentary really goes back to the origins of the comic book heroes which ended up being this massive hit producing an animated series and movies and also the novelty hit single Turtle Power by Partners in Kryme.

The story begins with how creators Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman met and how they bounced ideas of each other and how the story of the creation of the Turtles came about. The documentary has contributions outwith Laird and Eastman which is important to hear from guys like author Richard Rosenbaum and Comic Book Store (Silver Snail)

Eastman’s early sketch of an upright turtle holding nunchucks kicked it all off with him showing Laird his drawing and in turn Laird sketching his version and asking Eastman what it was meant to be. With Eastman replying “It’s a Ninja Turtle.” “How about putting Teenage Mutant in their title?”

Rosenbaum’s description of both artists probably explains best on how the collaboration in those early days worked and how those characters developed with Laird’s emotion and depth in writing coincidences with Eastman’s enthusiasm in the action and their fighting styles.

The early stages and possibly naivety of both artists was that they killing off their main villain in the first edition of the TMNT comic book not thinking the project could go any further shows how an idea can grow, develop and become the phenomenon it became in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

The Documentary Features nearly all the people who were there from the beginning and played a vital role in the development of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from the creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird to Mark Freedman (Surge Licensing) who helped the franchise to the makers of the animated series like guys like Fred Wolf (Animation Producer) to the director and stars of the first live action movie to the people like John Handy and Karl Aaronian at Playmates toys who helped the Turtles become one of the biggest toy lines of all time. This is a well and lovingly made documentary and a must-see for any Turtles fan.

It was great to see the original voice cast of the original animated series back together again and you could sense the camaraderie between Barry Gordon as Donatello, Cam Clarke as Leonardo, Renae Jacobs as April O’Neill, Townsend Coleman, Peter Renaday as Splinter, James Avery (Uncle Phil from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) as Shredder and Pat Farley as Krang.

Thomas Gray (Producer) explains the trials on selling the Turtles to him as a full feature film and convincing a studio to make the 1990 film. As a massive fan of Bruce Lee and his movies I wasn’t aware of the interest that Raymond Chow and his Studio Golden Harvest (who made all of Lees films) had in making the film in Hong Kong. It was also interesting to see the tribulations in the making of the original movie from executing the scenes from the comic books and transferring them to the big screen and the involvement of the Jim Henson company for the characters animatronics which back in the late 80’s and early 90’s to today’s standards were very primitive.

Overall Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an interesting documentary that really pulls the rabbit out of the hat with the amount of information and depth of knowledge from everyone who was involved from the beginning of the comic books to the animated series to the feature film as well as the business in the franchise and felt it was all put together very well. For anyone of a certain age this will remind you of the phenomenon that was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and it’s rise to fame against all the odds.