Sunday, June 4, 2017

Recommendations :: What I've Been Watching and So Should You -- Or Not :: May the Docs and Docudramas Be With You. Always.

While half of this documentary focuses on my fellow collectors showing off the size of their collections, the other half of Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys (2014) focuses on the fascinating first-hand history and behind the scenes production of the toys at Kenner, with lengthy testimonials from the folks who landed the contract (mostly because no one else wanted it) and made and marketed one of the most successful toy franchises of ever; from the Early Bird stop-gap to its demise after Return of the Jedi, and then scratches the surface of the resurgence in the 1990s. One of the more fascinating bits was on the pitches for products that didn't get made (-- way beyond the aborted Boba Fett rocket launcher). Also loved the segment on the photography for the packaging and box-art, and the award-winning efforts of mass-merchandising, transforming toy aisles (for better or worse) forever. Most of my collection was lost or destroyed over the years, but most of the figures survived (mostly) intact. But even if you're not a fan or invested to the point of mania, the well-made doc is still worth a spin and far from the normal circle-jerk one finds with this kind of specificity or niche topic.

Not a bad little documentary but I still think a warning is in order that the trailer for Elstree 1976 (2016) is kinda -- no, very misleading, as aside from a few brief anecdotes this doc has little to nothing to do with the actual production of Star Wars. Instead, the film focuses on the bit players and extras who filled in the background -- the Stormtroopers, the X-Wing pilots, the cantina aliens, their personal history, how they got their parts, and life after, focusing mostly on the memorabilia and autograph circuit, which was a bit of an eye-opener on the ugly, cut-throat viciousness of it: an Orwellian nightmare as some feel the others don't belong, depending on the size of the role. (No screen credit, no autographs.) And it got so ugly I avoided that whole area when I attended my first con. Again, not terrible, but a bit of a disappointment after being misled into a view by the trailer.

A fabulous cryptid documentary centering around strange anomalies ranging from Sasquatch sightings, to UFOs, to Native American curses, to strange rock outcroppings, to ghosts, to satanic rituals, all concentrated in a certain geographic area in Massachusetts. For those tuned into such things, I highly recommend The Bridgewater Triangle (2013).

This documentary profiles the notorious case of Joyce McKinney and 'The Manacled Mormon' which dates back to the late 1970s, where a kinky nudie model fell for some schluby Mormon who "disappears" when called away to England for missionary work; and so, said model hatches a plan to go to England, kidnap him -- she claims it was a "consensual" kidnapping, for a wild weekend of kinky sex as she tries to deprogram him from the Cult of Mormonism (-- her words, not mine). And that is just the beginning of the story chronicled in Tabloid (2010), as she and her accomplice pull this off, are caught and arrested, go on the lam, and trigger a circulation war between two British tabloids, one that portrays her as an innocent, the other as a conniving BDSM prostitute. The doc shows the what really happened is probably somewhere in between those two takes but it is fun to watch McKinney constantly contradict herself as she spins her yarn on her version of events. A story so screwy it has to be true. Watch and boggle as I did, folks.

Kind of a low rent SCTV knock-off, the WNUF Halloween Special (2013) centers around someone watching, but mostly fast-forwarding through an old VHS tape recording of a TV station's Halloween night broadcast back in 1987, where a cut-rate Geraldo Rivera wannabe does a live remote from an alleged haunted house where a murder took place some twenty years ago. Joined by two psychic investigators, a ghost-sniffing cat, a priest, and his gung-ho producer, they enter the long abandoned house where strange things start occurring between commercial breaks. OK, while I kinda dug the format of the presentation, this thing turned out to be a bit of a slog. Sadly, the most entertaining part of the tape were the parody commercials for the local merchants and syndicated TV shows. If you were paying attention there are several clues dropped during the newscast that preceded the actual special as to what and who is behind what happens later, which, sadly, isn't a whole lot. A curiosity that might be worth a scratch, just don't expect too much.

On the morning of July 15, 1974, TV reporter Christine Chubbuck, about eight minutes into the morning news broadcast on Sarasota, Florida’s WXLT-TV, after a technical glitch derailed the video on a story she was trying to report, shuffled the papers on her desk before looking into the camera and continued with the following statement: "In keeping with Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in 'blood and guts', and in living color, you are going to see another first—attempted suicide." Chubbuck then drew a revolver from her purse and shot herself behind her right ear on live TV. Antonio Campos’ docudrama, Christine (2016), tries and ultimately succeeds in carefully and deliberately laying the clues and groundwork that led to this disturbing act of self destruction, thanks in most part to an arresting performance by Rebecca Hall as the doomed reporter and host of a daytime news program, Suncoast Digest, with a history of depression, but who also volunteered at a children’s hospital, facing a hysterectomy, and suffering from an unrequited crush on a co-anchor, who tried to do important work for the community but felt pressured into more lurid content in hopes of higher ratings and a window to a larger market. A fascinating look at an unfolding tragedy that all involved are helpless to stop. 

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