Urban Pasta (Beware the Slenderman, 2017)

beware-the-slenderman-posterOn Saturday, May 31st in 2014, two young girls stabbed their friend 19 times in Waukesha, Wisconsin.  She survived after crawling from the forest and being found by a cyclist.  The two girls were found walking along a road.  They explained to the police that they were trying to prove their worth to “the Slender Man”.  When they were found, they were on their way to the Slender Man’s mansion, hidden deep in the forest.

The police had no idea who “the Slender Man” was.  The HBO documentary _Beware the Slenderman explores this question.  It tries to understand what drew these young girls into believing that they had to murder their friend.  And, according to the girls, if they did not kill their friend, Slender Man would hurt their families.

Slender Man is an urban legend…but unlike most urban legends, his origin is traceable.  Back in 2009, a forum group called Something Awful had a Photoshop contest.  Its goal was pretty simple, create paranormal photos.  One user created two images of children playing.  If you looked into the background, you saw a tall, thin and faceless man watching the children.

From there, other users started to build the myth of the Slender man.  In some ways, this is fascinating, as they explore how Slender Man grew and became so much bigger.  Especially when it was a mainstay of the Creepy Pasta community…which is where the two young women discovered him.  Creepy Pasta is a web community that writes creepy stories, creates fan art and so on.  Part of the inherent creepiness of the Slender Man is that he is often portrayed as a figure watching from a distance.

As the film progresses, we find there are reasons why these girls (especially one) are certain he is real.  It is a truly tragic story which really has many victims.  _Beware the Slenderman will both sadden and creep viewers out as it weaves it’s way through the history of the character and story of the girls as they are tried for attempted murder.

There is, admittedly a bit of an ethical controversy surrounding the film.  Irene Taylor Brodsky uses other filmmakers’ footage without permission in the film, and neither she nor HBO, have given them any credit.

Serial Killers With No Victims (the Confessions of Thomas Quick, 2015)

confession_of_thomas_quickThe Confessions of Thomas Quick is the story of Sture Bergwall, Swedens most legendary serial killer.  He was quick to tell authorities, under the name Thomas quick, he was guilty of multiple boy’s deaths occurring between 1964 and 1993.

Coming from a tough childhood (compounded by realizing he was gay, and to cope, he opted to self medicate), Bergwell took his mother’s maiden name Quick.  There were four boys he molested early on and then had stabbed a man.  There was no real punishment, they just kept him under psychiatric care for a little longer.  In the late 80’s he ended up in a psychiatric clinic for a vicious armed robbery that included holding a bank manager’s family hostage.

It was there he started to confess several killings of young boys.    Quick was certainly disturbed, once calling one of his brothers on the eve of heart surgery telling his brother he hope he died on the table.

The documentary is both disturbing and frustrating.  Seeing how excited the press and police became at the idea of Sweden’s first serial killer.  The doctors were not better, as they quickly took to trying to expand their own careers with his therapy, exploring the heart of a serial killer.

One of the disturbing aspects is how politely Quick describes his acts.  His confessions went beyond rape and murder…he also claimed to have cannibalized his victims.  And yet, he was embracing his celebrity, taking advantage of the doctors’ excitement with each confessions.  The police were thrilled to close cases.  But as his stories continued, he was confessing to young boys, women, couples and so on.  He seemed to be having grand problems requiring more and more medication.  And the doctors were telling him how brave he was to be helping people.

And then it all stopped.  A doctor came to the clinic who cut off his medication.  And as he dried out, he stopped claiming victims and cooperating with police.  And then…he withdrew every confession.  There were those who had questioned his confessions, but so often, people argued that the court system could not have falsely convicted him every time.  Yet, Quick later confessed he got much of his ideas for his story by reading books such as American Psycho.

Using interviews with Sture, doctors, journalists and researchers, home movies and recreations, The Confessions of Thomas Quick assembles a story that exposes a dark side of humanity.  From the police investigations to his doctors to the media, there was an excitement over this sensational killer, and nobody involved even seemed to pause to question any of it.  And it appears a very lonely man saw his opportunity to be known.  To be impressed in people’s minds.

The documentary is chilling in it’s exploration of the story, and they pack a lot of information in an hour and a half.  This is a film that will make the viewer uncomfortable and even angry, but it is an important exploration of humanity’s penchant for giving celebrity to people for sickening acts.  And how one man can manipulate others for that fame.  In the end, this is a tragic story, because the crimes he confessed to?  They will never be solved.


Cannon Blasts (Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, 2014)

electric-boogalooThe 80s were the heyday for Cannon Films.  Electric Boogaloo is the story of Israeli  cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.  Their goal?  To make Hollywood Blockbusters.  Things did not quite pan out, in spite of their tries.

What we got were schlocky gimmick films and attempts to create trends with their films.  This documentary chronicles the rise and fall of their studio Cannon Films.

The film talks to a thorough list of their directors, actors and employees that offer a entertaining and fascinating look at the studio’s rise from sexploitation films to goofy dance films to Chuck Norris actioners.

The film offers some interesting tidbits I was unaware of.  One example?  The Chuck Norris Vietnam POW action flick Missing In Action was actually the second film.  The director of the film told Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus the first film (which was not yet released) was terrible.  So they released the sequel as Missing In Action, and the first film was released as Missing in Action 2: The Beginning.

I found the documentary was interesting and enjoyable.  The Cannon world was a crazy one.  Interestingly, the cousins refused to be interviewed for the documentary, instead funding their own (the Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films) and beating Electric Boogaloo in release by three months.

He Lives! He Dies! He Is Canceled! (The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?, 2015)

death_of_superman_livesIn 1998 the comic world was abuzz with talks of a new Superman movie.  We heard talks of a script, a director (Tim Burton) and a star (Nicholas Cage).  And then one day it was dead, and Superman did not return to the screen until 2006 with Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns.

Since the comics internet was barely a thing in 1998, the film remained shrouded in mystery for almost a decade.  We had no idea really how far it had gotten until a few years ago when pic of Cage in a shiny Supersuit surfaced on the web.  Kevin Smith had shared some tales as the second screenwriter.

Really, the story behind the story is quite intriguing. Cartoon Network animator Jon Schnepp decided to investigate how the film went so wrong, exploring the story by talking to almost everyone involved.  John Peters, Tim Burton, Kevin Smith and other screenwriters and producers and production designers all contribute to tell the odd tale of Burton and Cage’s goal of a lonelier Superman who struggled as an outsider.  Superman Scissorhands, if you will.

Oh yeah, and Peters’ desire to get another Giant Spider and some polar bears on screen.

I was impressed by how many people Schnepp was able to get to sit down and discuss the project.  The only person that seems to be missing is Nick Cage, who is represented via archival footage.

The film is thorough in it’s research and leaves no stone unturned.  Schnepp fills the documentary with cool graphics from the comic books, images of production art and everybody is quite forthcoming.

The film does not persuade me that it would have been a disaster, but it is an entertaining peek into film history.

The Humor of Suffering (Tig, 2015)

TIG_KeyartTig Notaro tends to be what I think of as a comedian’s comedian.  One of those people that seems to fly under the radar with the public, but comedian’s love.  They often are hard working comics who get opportunities on late night talk shows because the host thinks you should hear them.  Notaro’s career was on the rise until 2012 when it skyrocketed.  Because, uh, she got breast cancer.

Tig had a series of heartbreaking events occur in her life, and then she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  A couple days later, she took to the stage, unsure what she was going to do…and she launched into an awkward, funny, and unique routine.  The other comics there started tweeting about what they were seeing.

3tigThe documentary Tig chronicles the lead up to this event and the fallout from it.   Following her trying to reassess her career, relationships and hopes for her future, the documentary is funny, inspiring, soul crushing.

Notero notes when she was told she should use this for her act, she had wondered how she could mine humor from such tragedy.  And yet, listening to her album Live (pronounced “liv”) she was able to riff hysterically about death, life, disappointment, cancer and uncertainty.

Tig is a terrific, thoughtful and fun documentary.  Mixing in her standup and interviews with her friends and family, you get a pretty full picture of Notaro.  Along with her album Live, I recommend a viewing of Tig.

The Painter’s Way (Drew: The Man Behind the Poster, 2013)

struzan_docIf you started watching movies in the early 80’s, you have seen the work of Drew Struzan.  Actually…if you listened to music in the 70’s, you probably owned his artwork on your shelf.  The documentary Drew: The Man Behind the Poster is an opportunity to make folks aware of Struzan and his long body of work and for people to heap tons of praise on the man.

And looking at the enormous amount of work he has done, it is no surprise why these folks (From George Lucas to Michael J. Fox) want to go on and on about his work.  Fox speaks of going to a photo shoot and realizing the guy taking pictures was the guy who painted the cover for Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare.

struzan_backThe film gives a solid overview of his career, giving insight into how he works.  Some of his most iconic posters were created knowing nothing of the film (He did the poster for John Carpenter’s the Thing overnight, the studio received it with the paint still wet).

struzan_empireIt seems, though, the real reason for the film is something far more unnoticed by the world.  The lack of great movie posters.  More than one person laments having great Struzan art made and then the studio went with a cut and past Photoshop designed poster.  Painted movie posters are a dying art.

struzan_indianastruzan_mastersThe documentary is worth it just for seeing Drew’s artwork, but it is enjoyable watching actors and filmmakers so focused on how important one aspect of promotional materials.  I tend to agree.  Thomas Jane notes how he sees the Drew Struzan poster for Masters of the Universe makes him want to see the film.  And he is right.  That is a cool poster.

I really enjoyed the film, learning about the history behind one of my favorite artists.  His praise is well deserved.


It All Falls Apart (Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, 2014)

lost_soul_coverFollowing the efforts of filmmaker Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) to make his adaption of H.G. Wells the Island of Doctor Moreau, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau.

The documentary is a fascinating exploration of egos and dreams colliding with commerce.  It provides a very honest look, with everyone being brutally truthful about what they were feeling.  It is full of downright bizarre stories.

For example, Stanley was shocked to find out that New Line announced the Island of Dr. Moreau with Roman Polansky.  They were unhappy with his desire to hire Marlon Brando, as New Line had just dealt with him on the Johnny Depp vehicle Don Juan De Marco.  It had not gone well, apparently.  Realizing he might lose the movie, he resort to witchcraft.  This is not a joke.  He actually sought a warlock friend to cast a spell.

lost_soul_stanleyStanley notes when he came to Hollywood, they put him up in an apartment complex.  He talks about how he became more and more paranoid that this was an attempt to shut him out.

lostsoul2Some of the surprises are to find some of the names they had associated with the film.  James Woods and Val Kilmer were hired, and then Kilmer decided he really did not like his role.  They convinced him to stay by switching him over to Woods’ role and sending James Woods packing.  They asked Rob Morrow (Northern Exposure) to try out, and he was intrigued, but shortly after filming, he begged to get off the picture.

Production closed down, and Stanley was fired from the production, which led to a breakdown for Stanley who was totally absorbed by the project.  And according to actress Fairuza Balk, this is actually when the nightmare began.

The introduction of John Frankenheimer to save the film resulted in a miserable crew and a whole different kind of craziness that they were meant to be escaping when firing Stanley.  Director David Gregory has managed to assemble a large number of people involved and to paint a vivid picture of the failure of Stanley’s dream, and ultimately the film the Island of Dr. Moreau.  It is a terrifically engaging film.

The Biggest Audience Ever (Audience of One, 2007)

Several years ago, back in the 90’s, Richard Gazowsky (a Pentecostal minister) went out to the wilderness and had a vision.  God wanted him to make a epic sci-fi movie.   Really.

audience_of_oneHe came back to his San Francisco congregation and proposed this…and the congregation went with it.  And that is when you start to wonder if you’ve been sucked into the Twilight Zone.  They start a company called WYSIWYG Productions, and then the fun starts.

At first, it looks possible.  I do not mean this in any sense sarcastically.  The wardrobe people, comprised of the Preacher’s family and members of the congregation, seem pretty competent and knowledgeable about what will and won’t work.  Gazowsky does not listen, routinely ignoring and steam rolling over anyone who tries to explain why what he wants may not be possible.  One young woman even explains that she sees him as her spiritual father so if he says to do something-even if she knows he is wrong-she will do as he asked, waiting for God to correct him.

audience_oneRichard talks much, along with the conceptual artists, of creating creatures we’ve never seen in their sci-fi version of Joseph and the coat of many colors(called Gravity:The Shadow of Joseph).  The plans for this film are large.  They are even hiring outside people for cast and crew.  They are flying to Italy to film.  This is no small production.  The church is transformed into a fully formed production studio.

It’s in Italy that things start to take a turn.  Cameras don’t work, people working on the film get stressed, and three days into filming, there has not been one second shot.  It is unclear when any filming is happening at all.  But what is clear is Richard gives great speeches regarding God, God’s will, what God will do for them as long as they stay focused and remember that their endeavor is to make this movie for an Audience of One.  As you may suspect, that audience of one is  Jesus.

Gazowsky is passionate and sincere, there is no doubt, but one seriously starts to question his grasp of the situation, as crew seem to realize that maybe there is trouble brewing.  When they return to San Francisco, things seem to look up.  The Church rents a large studio space from the city, a seeming blessing…until they fall behind on paying their rent.  This results in more more impassioned pleas, including Richard telling about how he went to tell the city that they were behind on the rent but the money is coming.  When the city asked for some proof, he told them that his word should be enough, and that they just need to believe because that’s what God wanted them to do.  The money will be there, the city of San Francisco just needed to believe.

Yeah, they shut off the power.

The film’s real strength lies in it’s sympathy to these people.  It doesn’t try and decide everything for you.  Admittedly, towards the end, as Gazowsky lays out a ten (eight?) point plan for the church that includes multiple Christian television networks and colonizing other planets (I am not kidding) he states that it is either God or he’s just crazy… it is not hard to side with crazy.

Director Michael Jacobs has made an entertaining and fascinating character study with Audience of One, and I recommend checking it out.

If We Need to Be Saved from Anyone… (Lord Save Us From Your Followers, 2007)

Save Us!!!I meant to discuss this movie a few months ago…when I first watched it.  Somehow, it just got put off.

Now, if you are going into Dan Merchant’s documentary Lord, Save Us From Your Followers anticipating Jesus Camp type hi-jinks or the irreverence of Bill Maher’s Religious, you will not find it.  Merchant is not exposing the darker undersides of religion or asking why people believe at all.  No, Merchant is asking why we cannot simply have a dialog instead of back and forth hissy fits.

Merchant is a self identified Evangelical Christian, and he is challenging the Culture Wars.  Right from the start, he touches on “What is something that Christians are known for?” and “What is something that Jesus Christ is known for?”  To accomplish this, Merchant donned a painters jumpsuit covered in bumper stickers and criss-crossed the country.

The answers vary, but what Merchant notes is that the second question?  The answers lean positive.  Most people have positive feelings about Jesus…but Christians?  You could almost tell the beliefs of the people by their answers.  Christians saw Christians as kind and graceful people.  Everyone else saw them as self righteous hypocrites.

But Merchant goes farther…he examines the strife here interviewing a variety of people.  Some well known (Rick Santorum and Al Franken) and some not.   Dan (can I call you Dan?) starts to explore how Christians interact with culture… and it isn’t pretty.  His first stop is San Diego.  There, a Christian group held a massive gathering of young people.  It was a stadium filler full of prayer, concerts, worship, etc.  And then the kids were led to “pray for San Francisco” on the steps of City Hall.  This was not long after Gay Marriage was approved by City officials.

Dan MerchantWhat is interesting is that the representative that sat down with Merchant (Ron Luce) plays oblivious to the controversy that erupted.  Protesters met them.  Shockingly, the San Diego gay community did not get a thrill out of this.  Luce tries playing the typical Christian response when people show up upset by their actions.  He plays that “They call us angry, but they were yelling at us!”  Yet, it is entirely clear that Luce knows what they did.  They got the reaction they were trying to get.  By using kids.  When Merchant suggests other mass media targets like Hollywood and Madison Avenue(since Revoution claims to be trying to save teens from “saturated with media influence”), he is met with a rather insincere answer about they will get to those…Merchant points out that the very next year they did the exact same thing.  Suffice to say, I was left unimpressed with Luce.

The film also focuses things like inter-faith work efforts.  Dan highlights a story about a mainstream radio station that teamed up with a Christian group to raise money for relief in third world countries.

Merchant and his crew put everything together with both reverence and humor.  And in most cases it works.  Personally, I would have cut the whole bit about renaming the cities, as it is far more alarmist than the other portions of the film.  It almost caves into the “War on Christmas” style  and is overly Michael Moore-ish in it’s exaggeration.  I mean, really, are any atheists trying to change city names that have religious names in any great numbers?  The rest of the film is so thoughtful, it feels out of place.

Poster for the MovieBut the most moving moments are towards the end.   Merchant caps the film off with a heart wrenching sequence of a confessional booth of a unique nature and a group with an inspirational look at a group with a unique outreach to the forgotten in their community.

The film is not trying to provide hard theological questions, but it is challenging the viewer to start a dialog, rather than a fight.  To stop ignoring the needs of others because we are to focused on being “right“.  It’s thought provoking, moving, challenging and well made.  I would highly recommend giving Dan Merchant’s film a chance.

I wrote this a few years ago, a humorous aside, Dan Merchant is a producer on the crazy SyFy zombie show Z Nation)

The Oceans Turn to Blood… (The Cove, 2009)

the-cove-posterThe filmmakers follow Richard O’Barry as he takes them around Taijii, Japan.  He comes across as a paranoid conspiracy theorist early on.  O’Barry wears a Sars mask and hunches over as he drives to fool Japanese police as they drive by.  The town of Taijii, Japan seems particularly harmless, even endearing in many ways.  They seem to be obsessed with dolphins.  The town is full of statues of dolphins and whales, boats are made in the shape of dolphins and whales, there is a whale museum.  O’Barry, however, hates that place.

And just who is Richard?  Well, he used to be one of the most foremost dolphin trainers in the world.  He captured and trained the five dolphins that played Flipper.  O’Barry shares a touching story of one of the dolphins dying in his arms.  Dolphins are, according to some, deliberate breathers.  They can simply not take another breathe.  He describes it as a suicide, and some may balk at this, but the intelligence of dolphins is not exactly up for debate.  But it helps you understand O’Barry’s passion.

The film challenges the captivity of dolphins quite heavily.  And seeing Dolphins in their natural environment makes a strong case that they do not belong in small tanks.  And what does that have to do with Taijii, Japan?  Well, Taijii is where many of the worlds zoos, water parks and “swim with the Dolphins” parks get their dolphins.  Every September, Japanese fisherman coral thousands of dolphins into a cove.  Trapped in that cove, buyers pick the best dolphins and purchase them.  It’s a very lucrative business($150,000 for a live show dolphin).  You can watch this from the road.  But, hidden away, in a separate cove the even larger horror occurs afterward.  Little was known before the cove was released.  The Cove in question is hidden away and closely guarded.

So, the filmmakers put together a special team to create unique hidden cameras and secret ops mission to bring the slaughter of the Cove to the public.  Military, special effects experts, world class free divers, concert techs…all came together.  And If Rick O’Barry seems paranoid, it becomes clear he is paranoid with good reason.  They are clearly being filmed and followed by Japanese police.  Then the fisherman show up.  They try blocking the cameras and then block the crew, so they could not get a better look.

They do major recon and preparation to capture something few people are ever allowed to see.

It’s a gut wrenching film.  The sea is filled with amazing and wonderfully creatures.  Among them are dolphins.  One of the tragedies is the fact that most of Japan is unaware of this.  The film finds swimming with dolphinsmany Japanese shocked to hear anyone would even eat dolphins.  But in Taijii?  It was served in schools.  This is a health issue, not solely an animal cruelty one.  The film is full of horror and tragedy.  It’s tough to watch.  The film culminates is allowing us to witness the dolphin slaughter. Simply put, it is nauseating.

But the final moments are inspiring, hopeful…vindicating.

The film made me ask some questions…

We know serial killers start with animals…it is there that they deaden themselves to killing.  And I have come to believe that how we treat animals is reflective as to how we will ultimately treat each other.  And more so…where is the passion of the religious?  The environment, which is also known as creation to most religious people…seems not to be passionate…

I do not understand how people that think creation is evidence of God are so willing to turn a blind eye to its destruction in the name of capitalism and not “hindering businesses”.

How is creation, if it is evidence of God and a creator…how can people of faith be so casual about casting it aside…I just cannot connect with a notion that it does not matter.

You can learn more at.

And…there is something kind of magical about watching dolphins swim set to Bowie’s Heroes.

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