We're not only getting a movie this year, we're getting a documentary about SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, too.
Heidi Yewman's gun violence documentary will devastate you— it also educates and illuminates, too.
Here are Father Gore's Top 205 Films of all time!
The Devil and Daniel Johnston. 2005. Directed & Written by Jeff Feuerzeig.
Starring Daniel Johnston, Laurie Allen, Brian Beattie, Louis Black, David Fair, Jad Fair, Don Goede, Matt Groening, Gibby Haynes, Sally Johnston Reid, Bill Johnston, Dick Johnston, Mabel Johnston, Margie Johnston, and Ken Lieck. Complex Corporation/This Is That Productions.
Rated PG-13. 110 minutes.
Documentaries are everywhere, on every sort of subject. Anything in the world you can think of, there’s probably a documentary on the subject. Certain documentary films interest me because of how I connect with them personally, others are just intriguing and interesting topics that will draw me in.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston is one of the former types. I’d never actually heard of Daniel Johnston before this movie. Other people I know had heard of him, but not me. Either way, I dove into this documentary because I knew that Johnston suffered from mental illness; that’s the single thing I knew of him. Identifying with him, as both a hopeful artist and a man trying to negotiate life with a severe form of depression, this film spoke to me. While I’m not a fan of all his songs, there are pieces of music here and there which really reach out to me. More than that, to see Johnston struggle through being an artist, growing up, living life, all the while battling manic depression desperately. There are moments you might find yourself grinding your teeth sitting there almost feeling the pain. Certain scenes are funny, lighthearted. A huge mixed bag here that collides into making one of the most personal, wrenching, devastatingly awesome documentaries about a musician you’re likely to ever see.
The most fascinating part about Daniel Johnston is the fact of his own rawness, his real and unabashed open qualities concerning his personality. At one point, on MTV no less during 1985, he tells the camera: “This is my album Hi, How Are You? and I was having a nervous breakdown when I recorded it.” He says it in such a matter-of-fact way that it’s hard not admire, or laugh, or smile. In just about every last scene where he’s talking, you find him divulging the most personal, inner secrets about the darkest corner of his life. And coupled with that, the way Daniel performs is different than anyone else I’ve ever seen. You can witness both the intensity of his musical ability, as well as his wildly nervous personality. He is visibly nervous each time a performance comes up, from his younger days to his later shows. Always there’s this fear inside him, which is actually endearing a lot of the time.
So it’s no surprise when, later, Daniel ends up having an actual serious breakdown. He becomes violent and crazy after experimenting with acid/LSD, which first began at a Butthole Surfers show. Slowly things deteriorate, as Daniel starts to get arrested, the police have altercations with him, he even causes disturbances in his family. Then there are various struggles. There were people who worked for him/with him, re: his career, who all tried their best to help him, whether that was committing him to a mental institution or getting him shows to play or whatever else could’ve been done. All the while throughout the history of Johnston, we’re seeing edits of him talking in various recordings (from dubbed tapes he did himself to video shot of him by others). It’s a strange conglomeration of things coming together to present his life to us. Best of all, even in the most intense, scariest moments of discussing Daniel and his condition, director Jeff Feuerzeig preserves a sense of respect and delicacy that shelters us from looking at Johnston like a freak. He isn’t, especially considering how mental illness is becoming less and less stigmatized today; this is a raw and honest look at someone’s struggle. But again, it doesn’t come off as “Look at how fucked up Daniel is“. There is a tenderness about the way Feuerzeig offers up glimpses of Daniel and his difficult life.
You’ll find it hard to deny the power of this documentary. No matter if you hate Johnston’s music, or if you think he’s a genius (I don’t think; I do find him an incredibly unique talent), if you have a heart beating in your chest and a soul deep down inside, this film will absolutely shake you. In the last 45 minutes or so, the devastating details come out. Such as the time Daniel thought he actually was Casper the Friendly Ghost, took the keys out of his father’s small plane in which they flying and tossed them out into the air, prompting his dad to make a crash landing. Luckily, they made it out of the situation with only minor injuries, but to think of what could’ve happened. It is a really frightening thought. That’s one of the turning points in the documentary, as not only do we realize the extent and depth of his illness, we also see a slight change in Daniel. Shortly afterwards, he starts to come down out of his religious fervor, his hallucinations and other similar delusions. He probably didn’t lose his faith. He just understood the gravity of his own condition. Today, he still struggles with issues of manic depression, but I feel after some of the more insane moments in his journey, there’s a part of him which accepts all of the ups and downs, in one big package. We go along that journey. Maybe in the end, the documentary’s biggest aspiration is to show people the mania inside music. Often people want the crazy, unstable musicians out there doing their thing and entertaining, but forget the human people inside these celebrities, inside the fame, deep down at the core. The humanity can’t ever be forgotten; this, if anything, is what Daniel Johnston and the film of his life has to teach.
This is a 5 star, flawless documentary. One of my favourites ever made. Because despite what you may feel concerning Daniel Johnston’s music, you cannot watch this without feeling something. To understand the mania and depression of others it’s necessary for people to be open, honest, willing to expose themselves to the world. It just so happens Johnston is one of the people willing to open himself up, like a living cadaver, and through this film he allows us a window into the damaged soul inside him. There are so many depressed and mentally ill people who could benefit from people coming out, talking of their own illnesses, their own struggles. We see so much of the devastation of unchecked mental illness in The Devil and Daniel Johnston, but in a roundabout way Daniel lets us understand how severe depression (or other similar mental afflictions) can be conquered: through love, honesty, openness, understanding, and yes, a dose of medication. There’s nothing ever glorious about this documentary, perhaps something which sets it apart from a lot of other biographical movies about musicians. Just remember – it isn’t all about the music, it is about the man. That is a point this film makes, over and over again. You may want all the madness that goes into the music, but don’t forget the men and women behind the music, their lives, what brings them to their talent and what gives us the unforgettable songs they’ve made.
The Seven Five. 2014. Directed by Tiller Russell.
Starring (as themselves) Michael Dowd, Ken Eurell, Walter Yurkiw, Chickie, Dori Eurell.
To start this review, I wanted to give a bit of personal insight into my view on police.
Firstly, I have two family members, close cousins, who are both officers here in St. John’s, Newfoundland – for those who don’t know, Newfoundland is a province on the far east coast of Canada. One of them is a new officer, the other now involved with Major Crimes from homicide to whatever else. So, I can’t say that all officers are bad. Anyone smart should know they are not.
However, second of all, I’ve had a couple experiences with police officers, as a younger man in my teen years, which now as a 30-year old I see in a different light. There is a high room for error in law enforcement, simply due to the fact that as an officer of the law you are dealing in the lives of human beings. What you do, or don’t do, can either negatively or positively affect the life of someone you take into custody/members of a perpetrator or victim’s family/et cetera. There are huge repercussions when it comes to an officer not doing their job correctly, and as we see so much today in the news coming out of America there are deadly effects when police override the law and surpass it because of their lust for power. An enormous responsibility rides on the shoulders of the police – many willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect us from the actual dangerous elements of society, then in opposition too many seem to also have no problem putting innocent/unarmed(etc) citizens in the way of harm or outright have no problem doing those same citizens harm themselves. When the responsibility is shirked, it is not the same as even an insurance agent messing up some forms and leaving a customer without proper coverage; incompetent and downright criminal police work comes with a hefty, fatal price in many situations.
The Seven Five, directed by Tiller Russell, is the epic tale of police corruption in the seventy-fifth precinct out of New York when Michael Dowd was in uniform there. An insanely criminal lawman, Dowd seemed to infect everyone around him, including the rookies and other naive cops coming into the job. It was as if, for a time, Dowd became the centre of corruption in the entirety of the NYPD.
Through a number of talking head interviews, including Dowd himself, Russell brings us through a bunch of stories that emphasize how deep and devious the corruption went.
What began as a bit of cash, then on to thousands upon thousands of dollars, soon became a devil’s deal with drugs, guns, and murder to boot. Dowd, as we see through the documentary’s runtime, evolves from a smalltime crooked cop on the beat to, essentially, a drug dealer as vicious as any other man selling drugs on the street. From a hindsight perspective, Tiller Russell takes us through the names, the faces, the situations which brought Michael Dowd down the dark roads he took and where everyone has ended up today.
Basically, Michael Dowd is the literal representation of the criminal cop. I mean, he is the epitome of the description, he makes the whole documentary feel like a Martin Scorsese film. Sometimes he says things that are darkly priceless, maybe similar to something Ray Liotta or Joe Pesci might spit out. At times, he actually strikes me more like Lester Diamond from Casino simply because he’s a god damn nutter. It’s sick, but the way in which he basically corralled an entire dirty ring of cops is villainously smart.
But naturally things didn’t last forever for Mike. If they did, he certainly wouldn’t have been on camera telling us his darkest confessions of the nasty business he got into while supposedly policing the streets.
One of my favourite pieces to The Seven Five is the stuff with Adam Diaz.
What can we say about Mr. Diaz? He loves Bryan Adams and sold tons of drugs. Best of all, he sold them out of a grocery store. His operation was supremely slick. With some tips from ole Officer Dowd, the store could have everything looking proper, no drugs on the premises, and nothing could be said – like Diaz himself relates, even if someone snitched and said they were there buying drugs the week before, what did it matter? Who cares where they were or went or who they saw, what they bought? Didn’t matter a pinch. Because as Diaz says, there were no drugs – “I sell groceries!”
In the year 1987, one kilo of cocaine was equal to about $34,000. Diaz, 20 years old, was selling 300 kilos a week, bringing in hundreds of millions a year.
The reason Michael Dowd and Adam Diaz became as close as they were was due to when Dowd gave Diaz a tip which saved the dealer half a million dollars. A raid was on the way, which Dowd headed off with the tip, and this proved to Diaz this was his man.
So we can see how it wasn’t simply a bunch of crooked cops, Dowd was involved with true criminal organizations, such as the Diaz Organization which had its own ties to further criminal entities. It’s amazing to watch how the corruption basically leaks out, like an oil spill milking thick out of a barrel and spreading over the entire city of New York. Sad that while so many people needed help, some criminals could’ve been taken off the streets, Dowd and Ken Eurell, his unfortunate partner that was near hypnotized by Dowd, and the other corrupt officers were just feeding their egos, their bank accounts, and sure, their families.
But it’s funny, nowadays in America, and back then certainly, we’re less willing to indict cops as a society overall than we are to shit all over people in unions. And basically, these officers, headed by the insanity of Michael Dowd, went into a union-like situation – the big argument for corruption is “They don’t pay me enough for the danger of the job I’m doing” – and instead of striking, instead of fighting for higher wages and trying to negotiate, they went above and beyond any normal reactions straight into using the leverage and power of their positions to commit criminal acts; acts they were arresting others for committing, all at the very same time.
Michael Dowd: “It wasn’t like you were hurtin’ people. You were hurtin’ fucking scumbag drug dealers.”
With every day that passes by in America, there seems to be another incident where unarmed people – most if not all are black – get murdered by the police. Straight up. So many news stories breaking, each week, where another black man or black woman is taken down, either by police in the field or in custody. It’s disturbing. Feels like nothing has really changed, as we watch Dowd during his interviews and the tapes of his testimonies – sure, this is not about racism, but it’s above all about the corruption of power. The same thing happens today. We see at various points throughout this documentary how a lot of the negative behaviour some police officers come to display is bred into them through senior ranking officers, detectives, et cetera, the rookies are working under. Much like hate and racism/sexism is learned behaviour often stemming from the family one grows up in, or the parent figures one is raised by, the same goes for this corrupt behaviour in police officers; much of that comes out of learned and encouraged behaviour.
I don’t want to say too much else about the documentary, much of it is information you need to hear firsthand.
For me, The Seven Five is a 5 out of 5 star documentary film. It outlines the corruption of the time in the NYPD so perfectly, examining one of the most corrupt police officers to have ever lived. Michael Dowd is a truly disturbing, bad dude when it comes down to it. The quote above shows that, infinitely. People like to think there’s a need for that blanket statement – that all drug dealers are human garbage, every one of them. Unfortunately, you just can’t say that. Especially if you’re an officer of the law, not simply because you should be objective at times as to avoid collaring the wrong suspects and leading yourself into trouble, but most of all it can lead to the detrimental thinking in police officers such as Dowd: it leads to the illusion of power. It leads people like this man to believing that they are truly above someone else on the evolutionary scale, as if they’re the perfect example of Charles Dawin and the idea of Survival of the Fittest – the dealers, the crackheads, all of them are weak and therefore ought to be weeded out. In a microcosm, this is the thinking which leads people to believe the ideologies of leaders like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and so on.
You should see this documentary. One of the better recent crime docs to come out. Especially if you’re interested in police corruption, civil rights, and other similar subjects. I highly recommend this. Not only interesting, The Seven Five is a smooth and flowing documentary that keeps the audience engaged, provides a ton of information, and even gives us a few truly dark and disturbing moments when it comes to the crime underworld and corrupt cops.
Check it out, let me know what you think in the comment section below!
Soaked in Bleach. 2015. Directed by Benjamin Statler. Written by Donnie Eichar, Richard Middleton, and Benjamin Statler.
Starring Tyler Bryan as Kurt Cobain, Sarah Scott as Courtney Love; featuring, as themselves, Tom Grant, Brett Ball, Max Wallace, and Norm Stamper. Daredevil Films.
Rated PG. 100 minutes.
Admittedly, even though I’ve always thought Courtney Love is bat shit crazy, I never believed she (or anyone else) might’ve been covering anything up or hiding information concerning Kurt Cobain’s suicide. As much as I loved Cobain, worshiped Nirvana as a young musician with a bad attitude and even worse fashion sense, I just took what the media fed me about his depression and how he’d always seemed suicidal, that he took his I.D out and put it on his wallet so that when he shot himself they’d be able to identify his body easily… and so much more.
After watching this, the other reviews and articles touting this documentary as a ‘conspiracy theory’ are way off base. There’s too much in this film to deny, from actual police documents, the tapes Private Investigator Tom Grant has with Courtney Love on it saying some downright incriminating things and even some with Rosemary Carroll (the Cobain/Love lawyer) saying things against Love. See for yourself. Judge on your own. But here’s my take..
The first thing we hear is a conversation between Tom Grant and Courtney. She hired him to investigate after Kurt went missing, this was only briefly before his alleged suicide. On this first tape, Grant questions Courtney about where she’d found some other letter, supposedly from Kurt, and she is telling him it was under the pillows on her bed. Grant, being there the night before Kurt was found dead, knew different; he’d tossed the bed and found Rohypnol, which Kurt had a prescription for. He knew the difference, and yet Courtney tried sticking to her guns even when Tom told her otherwise. So right off the bat, we get this very real, raw version of Courtney – outside of the media, outside of other celebrities and what they think of her or the general public and their view – right from a tape. It’s damning.
From there, we learn a little about Grant whose life story reads much like a lot of police/military officers. The thing I kept wondering is, for those who don’t believe the man or doubt he is credible – what does he have to gain from this? He’s pretty much haunted with what he sees as the facts. He’s not exactly a celebrity himself because of Kurt or Courtney; most people pass him off as just another conspiracy theorist. Yet, as he mentions later, Tom still gets letters, e-mails, all sorts of communication asking about Kurt, wondering why nothing has been done when there’s actually a lot of evidence suggesting he did not die by suicide. It isn’t only Tom who believes, but unfortunately the police seem to be the real roadblock.
It becomes very clear that police negligence really had a hand in what came to pass. On top of that, Courtney Love set the stage for this “suicide” – when she hired Tom Grant, filed a police report (and did so in fake fashion using Cobain’s own mother’s name – the media promptly reported his mom was worried he was suicidal and filed a Missing Persons), and then perpetuated the myth of Cobain being frequently suicidal. What really troubles me is this idea of the myth – that Kurt really wasn’t a suicidal person. Yes, he was depressed. Yes, he had killer stomach pains that put him in agony. But he was happy with his friends and people around him. After the stomach pains were cleared up and doctors put him on the correct medication after many stressful years, Cobain himself told an interviewer he felt the best he’d ever felt and he was plenty happy. Sure, no one knows what’s going on in the mind of someone behind closed doors – ultimately, we never know. I had a friend who killed himself and none of us in our circle of friends ever expected it. Yet so many close friends claim Kurt never ever talked about suicide once.
Furthermore, he’s not in the movie but Buzz Osborne knew Kurt, and the rest of Nirvana, from the beginning – he and Kurt went to high school together, he knew him before and after Nirvana hit the bigtime. Buzz claims Kurt was never suicidal, it was all a lie. He has harsh words for the other Cobain documentary that recently came out, Montage of Heck, because aside from the suicide myth it portrays other stories that are not actually true (the story that Kurt supposedly had sex with an overweight, mentally handicapped girl when he was young is a total fabrication, according to King Buzzo). So during Soaked in Bleach, we get a lot of other opinions from people very close with Cobain that jive with that of Osborne – that Kurt could be quiet, shy, but the idea that he was a suicide case is untrue.
What really drove this home is Courtney Love. When Cobain accidentally overdosed on his Rohypnol prescription after having a glass of champagne, the incident was not called a suicide at the time. At first people speculated it was an attempt, but it was confirmed as being accidental afterwards. Love did not, at the time, claim Kurt tried to kill himself. Nobody did. Then, after Kurt was found dead, immediately Courtney began telling the media how he tried it in Rome, he tried before, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise. This is categorically untrue. Max Wallace brings up the fact they even talked with the doctor who attended to Kurt that night in Rome, and the doctor also denies to the bone it was a suicide attempt confirming it was most certainly an accidental overdose. It isn’t hard to see Love helped the media run with the image of Kurt as a suicidal persona.
Once things get to the real down and dirty faces, looks at the crime scene and all that, it’s even more of an affirmation that Tom Grant is not just some ‘conspiracy nut’. The tapes are one thing, hearing Courtney go on about how maybe Kurt disappearing and all that before his death would be good for publicity on Hole’s next album and hearing her just lie to Grant over and over, but the crime scene is a whole other beast. I don’t want to say too much more because the evidence is some of the real knock-out stuff in this film.
I did like the little drama recreations they did with actors playing Love, Grant, Cobain, and others involved. Some of it was pretty decent. Not that she doesn’t deserve it after seeing this movie, but they really went hard at Love with their portrayal. However, I don’t see it as being that far off base. If you didn’t think Love was crazy before, you absolutely will after watching this. It’s hard not to. A lot of the evidence presented makes you wonder how this case isn’t being re-opened and investigated again. Truly. This was an eye-opener of a documentary. Even worse, it’s coming out that apparently Courtney Love has bought Twitter followers, et cetera, to help tank ratings on websites for the film; IMDB is usually bad for ratings, but the skewed low rating for this was ridiculous as about 1,000 ratings of 1 before the release drove it down. Suspicious? Make up your own mind.
This is absolutely a 5 star documentary. I love Cobain, his music, all of it, but to see this was truly fascinating. I can’t get over it, honestly. I want to watch it again several times just to take in all the information. The whole thing is spooky. I’ll say no more other than – the directing is great, this whole film is put together well, and Tom Grant is a saint for offering himself up all these years as “that conspiracy guy” who has actually been fighting the fight for real justice.
One thing resonated with me deeply. Tom brought up how there have been tons of suicides that have been copycats of Kurt – either they did what he did exactly, or their suicide notes quoted Nirvana and related to the late rockstar – and he just wants the truth out there. Because it’s a shame for any kid to kill themselves, but if it’s partly due to the fact Kurt supposedly did, when he might not have, then there is a real need to have the truth known. Not only for all those kids, future kids possibly, but also for Kurt, for Frances Bean, and for all the people of a generation who related to him through his music.
Ever watch a documentary that pissed you off? Well, here's another one.
Anvil: The Story of Anvil. 2008. Dir. Sacha Gervasi.
Starring Anvil. Abramorama.
Unrated. 80 minutes.
Documentary – Biography/Music.
Before this film, I had only briefly heard of Anvil by thumbing through old metal records in my search for bands that had escaped mainstream eyes. I never much gave them a listen, and it wasn’t until a few years ago when I saw Anvil: The Story of Anvil that I went back after viewing the documentary, so I could listen to their tunes. Have I been sleeping! As a metal fan, it’s a shame I had never discovered Lips and the crew before because they are true, old school, tongue licking, brain rocking heavy metal.
Since the late 1970s, Anvil have influenced many other great metal bands, some who reminisce on the band’s early performances, their edgy sound, and the dirty, saucy songs they wrote throughout this documentary. For whatever the final reason, Anvil never became commercially successful the way people like Slash, or bands such as Metallica, Anthrax, and Twisted Sister did; they spiraled into years of making monetarily unsuccessful albums on their own, and playing whatever gigs they could manage to get. All the while, many of the bands they influenced with their stage performances and gritty tunes were out touring all over the globe and back again.
However, Lips (real name- Steve Kudlow) and Robb (Reiner) never ever gave up on their dream, and continued to rock on as the only solid members of Anvil to stay the entire course.
This documentary picks up as the boys get contacted by a European fan who basically offers to be their manager, and wants to help arrange a tour of shows in Europe for somewhere around 1500 Euros a night (or so she says). What follows is a very disheartening tour where they are late for gigs, delayed here and there, and generally followed by an air of discontent; at one point, Reiner even refuses to play and says he will quit the band, but Lips convinces his oldest best friend to stick it out. These guys have taken time off work for five weeks, and make little-to-no money whatsoever.
It almost feels like Anvil is doomed. Lips, though, still feels the passion, and so does Reiner. Lips sends Chris “CT” Tsangarides (a producer they had previously worked with many years ago) a demo tape of their new album called This is Thirteen; CT calls Lips back, and says it has potential, but they still need funds to make it all happen.
Lips tries to do telemarketing with the help of a very enthusiastic lifetime fan of Anvil, but cannot even produce one sale; this part was especially sad, as even though Lips holds another job, we get a glimpse at how rockers feel when not on the stage, and forced to go to work just like the rest of us (Lips is a man who knows only music; it feels to me he is compromising himself by working a regular job, and that’s why this scene is particularly depressing). An emotional visit with his sister yields a great opportunity for Lips and his band: she gives him what I understood to be around $10,000 to help him make the album.
This is where we see the true spirit of Anvil begin to shine, and even though there are still arguments, fights, scraps- the band pushes to achieve their dream.
In the end, Lips and Reiner travel with Anvil back to Japan where the film began in 1984 at the Super Rock Festival. Now, they find they are booked for 11:30am to play, and Lips immediately begins wondering how they came so far to simply be booked for a morning show. With all routes looking to lead towards more disaster for Anvil, they take the stage in front of a massive crowd of people DYING to see them, and proceed to rock their fans from beginning to end of their set. You can almost see the fire return to Lips and Reiner, as they finally have made it back to the huge stage in Japan where they once played with the Scorpions, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi, and many other big names.
I give this film a full and fat, rocking 5 out of 5 stars because not only is it a well-documented film about the trials and tribulations of Anvil as a band, but also it showcases what the human spirit is all about: never giving in. The ability to get knocked down before getting back up each and every time they fall is something Lips and Reiner are both masters at; they falter, but never do they fall flat on their face. Every moment is just another moment for redemption. Highly recommended.
Just a note- whenever I feel down, or like life isn’t giving me a fair shake, I throw on The Story of Anvil, and I’m reminded just who the real heroes are. Those are the times I’m reminded that determination really is everything; it’s not just some tired cliché. It’s truth.