Category Archives: Documentaries

SIFF Review: ‘The Reagan Show’

All Hail, the Gipper!

We’ve heard plenty about how the media helped to construct Donald Trump. We see how another White House and the media interacted in, “The Reagan Show,” a new documentary by filmmakers Pacho Velez (Manakamana) and Sierra Pettengill (Town Hall). Pacho Velez was on hand this weekend for a Q&A after the film’s showing at the Seattle International Film Festival.

Ronald Reagan is as much icon as enigma. He managed a life and career treading upon the surface. In their documentary, Velez and Pettengill work mostly from archival footage, made up of official White House video and network news segments, to revisit a man who was at his best as a flickering image just beyond reach. The Reagan administration made the big switch from documenting the president in video instead of the traditional, costly, and confining 16mm film. Video allowed for continuous unencumbered recording. It became known as White House TV, perfect for a former Hollywood actor. The documentary perfectly mines all the irony attached to our first reality TV president. What we get is not so much bloopers, or even anything substantial behind the scenes, but a better sense of a president who was painfully too old and woefully disengaged.

Growing up in the ’80s, I don’t recall that era as particularly quaint but the footage in this doc proves otherwise. One such moment could have come right out of the Eisenhower White House. To illustrate how in command the president was, Chief of Staff Howard Baker recites what is supposed to be a decisive moment between Reagan and his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev. Just prior to a tough round of negotiation, Reagan asked Gorbachev if he would autograph his World Series baseball. This gesture supposedly disarmed Gorbachev and left Reagan with the advantage. It’s a nonsensical anecdote but it apparently disarmed the media just enough to look away and move on.

Pres. Ronald Reagan and Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev

There is plenty of obliging on the part of the media to be found here. Some hard-hitting questioning too, especially by ABC News White House correspondent Sam Donaldson. But the president’s charm is ever present. The only tarnish comes with the complex Iran Contra scandal. It is complex enough to allow Reagan something of a pass. For the most part, this doc focuses on the work between Reagan and Gorbachev. As Velez pointed out during the Q&A, Reagan is credited with ending the Cold War, whether or not that’s true. Overall, he achieved the status of an icon. In reality, as this doc makes clear, the Reagan administration did a lot of stumbling and had the unbelievably good luck of having Mikhail Gorbachev running the Kremlin.

Under certain circumstances, the press, and various other power brokers, will always look away. There will always be exceptional circumstances (FDR, for example, was never photographed in a wheelchair). But when a president so flagrantly abuses his power, then that gentleman’s agreement is forced off the table. Ronald Reagan remained a gentleman. And, for that, he was saved by the establishment. The media asked tough questions but they were always open to being charmed. And Ronald Reagan could be relied upon to charm with the best of them.

While this documentary has its share of irony and self-awareness (Reagan’s plea to “Make America Great Again” is included), it cannot help but get caught up in the murk of Reagan “charm.” As Velez stated in the Q&A, he aimed for this documentary to follow a narrative of success with a happy ending. Sure, Velez did not want to demonize Reagan. Fair enough. But to allow Reagan off the hook with a story that closes with him achieving a nuclear arms treaty with the Soviets is pretty generous. You may as well end a story about Nixon with him opening relations between the US and China. To Reagan’s credit, Velez pointed out in the Q&A, he always seemed sincere. In comparison to today, that does count for a lot.

You can follow “The Reagan Show” on its Facebook page right here. The documentary will air this Labor Day on CNN. You can still catch it at SIFF this Wednesday, June 7th. Go to SIFF for details right here.

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Filed under Documentaries, Movie Reviews, movies, politics, Ronald Reagan, Russia, Seattle, Seattle International Film Festival, SIFF, Soviet Union

Interview: Spencer F. Lee and FROM THE BRIDGE

Spencer F. Lee, Stan Lee, and Kerry O'Quinn

Spencer F. Lee, Stan Lee, and Kerry O’Quinn

“I started writing when I was eleven. I didn’t start writing at age eleven because I thought I was going to become a movie director. I did it because I enjoyed it. I fed off the movies I was watching and the comic books I was reading.”

–Spencer F. Lee, writer/director of FROM THE BRIDGE

FROM THE BRIDGE is a documentary that looks at the career of Kerry O’Quinn, one of the leading figures in fandom, and explores in depth the rich and exciting world of science fiction, comic books, and horror–and the fans who love it. At this point, those fans include a vast number. But it wasn’t always that evident. With this new documentary, due out in 2017, writer/director Spencer F. Lee shares with you his childhood passion that has blossomed into a deep understanding of some of today’s leading forms of entertainment.

FROM THE BRIDGE, directed and written by Spencer F. Lee, executive producers George Noe and Spencer F. Lee, produced by Philip Nelson, and hosted on-screen by George Takei, is a feature film documentary that tells the story of how fans worldwide have “come out of geekdom’s closet” in the last 40 years, largely nurtured and encouraged by Kerry O’Quinn. Having the opportunity to interview both Spencer F. Lee as well as Kerry O’Quinn, I’ve come away with a great appreciation for what this film will mean to an audience. The film features interviews with Stan Lee, Bryan Singer, Gene Simmons, Joe Dante, Nichelle Nichols, Tom DeSanto, Bryan Fuller, Rod Roddenberry, Howard Roffman and many more.

The full podcast interview with Spencer F. Lee is right below. Just click the link:

Up next is my interview with Kerry O’Quinn, co-founder of such landmark magazines as Starlog and Fangoria.

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Filed under Comics, Documentaries, Fandom, Fangoria, Geek Culture, Geeks, Horror, Kerry O'Quinn, pop culture, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Spencer F. Lee, Star Trek, Star Wars, Starlog

Movie Review: DE PALMA by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow

Jake Paltrow, Brian De Palma and Noah Baumbach

Jake Paltrow, Brian De Palma and Noah Baumbach

Brian De Palma is a wonderful conversationalist. In this new documentary, “De Palma,” which appears to have taken place in one sit-down interview, De Palma shares with you everything about his career and, by extension, his life. You feel a great director is passing his hand over it all, setting the record straight. This is Brian De Palma, after all, and he has had to endure a formidable amount of attack on his work. Either he was ridiculed for daring to reference Alfred Hitchcock, or his films were deemed to have too much sex, too much violence, and too much blood. The key to what makes this documentary truly worthwhile is that De Palma is a great storyteller and he sure wasn’t going to hold back on his own life’s story. He doesn’t control as much as he reveals.

What you learn about Brian De Palma in this documentary will undoubtedly enrich your viewing of his work. Let the master confess to you. As it turns out, the much discussed voyeurism in De Palma’s films is quite personal. There is certainly the Hitchcock influence, which De Palma addresses early on. How often does “Vertigo” alone get referenced in his work? Well, a lot. That is involved with a fascination in what the viewer gets to see. Later, we find out a deeper motivation. De Palma, as a young boy, was outraged to discover his father’s infidelity. He took it upon himself to follow his father and document on film his activities. De Palma, detective, gathering evidence. Finally, he confronts his father and flushes out his mistress who was attempting to hide in a closet. De Palma furiously chastises his father. De Palma, avenger, administering punishment.

At age 75, Brian De Palma has earned many times over a re-evaluation. This is a guy who definitely knows how to push buttons. Arguably, he has painted himself into something of a corner smeared in blood, mostly women’s blood. His level of suspense can be said to be over the top. However, it is something else when you have him there on the screen thoughtfully articulating his work alternating with various compelling clips and footage from a lifetime in cinema. He’s not there to persuade you. He’s there to let you in on things. You end up feeling that, yes, it is really in your best interest to put away any past preconceived ideas and listen. As for the relaxed candor running throughout, we can also give a lot of credit to the film’s directors, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow.

SIFF Cinema Uptown in Seattle showing "De Palma"

SIFF Cinema Uptown in Seattle showing “De Palma”

Ultimately, this is a master class in filmmaking. De Palma does not say anything without it having a reason, followed by other reasons. At one point, he claims to not care for car chases. He says that “The French Connection” put that to rest with the greatest car chase ever. Besides, he’s not a car guy. Later, he admits he really prefers walking scenes as they lend themselves to great nuance and mystery. He loves the way a woman moves. And, more to the point, constructing a walking scene plays into his need for pictorial structure. And don’t get him started on his split-screen technique. Well, actually, do and you get some fascinating observations. For one thing, yes, it can be overdone and it won’t work for an action sequence. But allow someone with vision to modulate it, and it works. Brian De Palma was part of a golden age and contributed too much to ever be dismissed. This documentary proves to be a great companion to his work.

“De Palma” is currently enjoying a limited run. Catch it in theaters while you can. I had the pleasure of viewing it at one of our Seattle International Film Festival theaters that provide SIFF members and the general public with quality content year-round. “De Palma” is showing at SIFF Cinema Uptown along with a selection of De Palma films. Find out more about SIFF right here.

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Filed under Brian De Palma, Documentaries, Movie Reviews, movies, Seattle, Seattle International Film Festival, SIFF

#NoBillNoBreak and BRAVE NEW FILMS

#NoBillNoBreak

#NoBillNoBreak

Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts was fed up with the ritual in Congress of a moment of silence followed by no further response to the latest mass shooting in America. She approached civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. Lewis responded with organizing a classic sit-in. This time it would be inside the well of the House of Representatives, something never done before. And so history is being made. The Democrats are now galvanized and vow to continue the fight. Moving forward, spreading the word about the issues involved is crucial and Brave New Films is one great resource.

Rep. Katherine Clark teamed up with Rep. John Lewis for the sit-in.	–Katherine Clark / Twitter

Rep. Katherine Clark teamed up with Rep. John Lewis for the sit-in. –Katherine Clark / Twitter

Brave New Films is doing its part to spread awareness with its own Gun Safety campaign running since 2014. You may think you know the story but the facts will speak for themselves:

On January 5, 2016, President Obama announced executive actions aimed at expanding background checks. That same day, Smith & Wesson’s share prices rose to a record high of $25.86* a share.

Eleven days ago, 49 people died and 53 were injured in Orlando Florida, the 133rd mass shooting this year. As of yesterday, Smith & Wesson shares are up 19%** since Orlando.

Smith & Wesson is MAKING A KILLING, and they are not the only ones. The NRA, gun manufacturers and the politicians they pay are all guilty of greed.

Since launching our Gun Safety campaign in 2014, we have reached millions of people with our content. Because of your support and the thousands of supporters like you sharing and contributing, the narrative of our work is developing the connection for the mainstream media to see how greed is making us all less safe.

Will you donate $25 right now so we can continue to create content that activates millions? With every donation, big or small, you make an impact.

Content like this piece released yesterday and already reaching 210,000 people and counting. #NoBillNoBreak

The mainstream coverage of #NoBillNoBreak is promising. Now is the time to keep making the connection between the business of selling guns and the politics that allow an industry that fuels 133 mass shootings in less than half a year to keep making billions in profits. Together, we are reframing the gun debate because the right to safety should always triumph over greed.

Visit Brave New Films and learn more about their Gun Safety campaign and help support their film, THE REAL NRA: MAKING A KILLING.

Support Brave New Films in continuing to provide compelling content to millions of people. You can make a donation right here.

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Filed under Activism, Brave New Films, Civil Disobedience, Documentaries, Gun violence, NRA, Protest

Star Wars: Go Behind the Scenes with ELSTREE 1976

Extras on the set of "Star Wars," 1976

Extras on the set of “Star Wars,” 1976 from the documentary, “Elstree 1976”

I was an extra in a big movie and it was no fun at all. I got a lot of face time with the director but, since he chose to only speak in German, we never spoke, even when I tried to ask him a simple question. He just stared at me as I steadily baked in the sun. The only time he dropped his refusal to speak in English was when I had inadvertently left the set. Someone came over to tell me to get back into costume and report to the set. And that’s when the director let me have it, in English, “No one, but no one, walks off my set!” Now, he’s talking to me, in an abusive tone no less! So, I would not recommend being an extra. However, what if that movie was really something else? What if it was 1976 and you were one of the lucky bunch of extras on the set of “Star Wars”? That is the subject of a new documentary, “Elstree 1976.” And, if you’re wondering, Elstree Studios are commonly known to all Brits as that entertainment studio that can be relied upon for something good on the telly. In fact, as far as these extras knew, the sci-fi adventure flick they were a part of was assumed to be some sort of TV movie.

Filmmaker Jon Spira does a great job of having you get to know these individuals who would go on to be part of cinema history. We have ten portraits and each person is a gem with wonderful bits of observations. I especially like Paul, a classically trained Shakespearian actor. He recounts how he was led into this giant warehouse where he was left alone with a magnificent looking aircraft, which turned out to be the Millennium Falcon. Paul walked around it and noticed a man sitting off to one corner. He approached the man and asked if he knew where he might get some coffee. The man offered to get him some. Paul got his coffee and thanked the man. Then he asked his new friend if he might know where he could find the director, George Lucas. The man nodded and admitted that he was George Lucas. Paul got to experience the greatest possible experience any extra could ever dream of!

If you enjoy DVD bonus features, then think of this documentary as the ultimate in extras–on the subject of extras. This is for the Star Wars fan who thought he’d seen it all. No one in this film will bowl you over with their star power and that’s the point of this film. These are just nice everyday people who just happened to have a small role to play in the biggest blockbuster movie of them all. What is truly compelling about this film are the individual portraits. You’re going to like this especially if you like the Up Series, the Granada Television series that’s been following the lives of fourteen British children since 1964. Yes, the whole endeavor does ring a bit bittersweet but it’s also quite fascinating. And it’s Star Wars we’re talking about, so that adds another level of quirk to the whole thing.

ELSTREE 1976 has a US theatrical run as of May 6th in select cities including Los Angeles and New York City. For the full list of theaters and ticket information, go here. This movie will be available on DVD on June 28th via MVD Entertainment Group. The DVD can be pre-ordered now at the MVD Shop or on Amazon. You can also find ELSTREE 1976 on iTunes right here.

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Filed under Documentaries, pop culture, Star Wars

DVD Review: WHILE WE’RE YOUNG

While-Young-Ben-Stiller-movie-2014.jpg

I am inspired to share with you my thoughts on recently viewing a DVD of “While We’re Young,” a 2014 comedy-drama written, produced, and directed by Noah Baumbach starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, and Amanda Seyfried. See the trailer, if you haven’t already. Okay, it looks like it’s about a middle-aged couple who wonder if life has passed them by. It’s about that but, at it’s also very much about the breakdown in honesty and integrity in a world where such things don’t seem to matter as much as they used to.

There’s a good chance you’ve heard about the ridiculous story of our times, the misadventure of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o who was supposedly “catfished” in a bizarre girlfriend hoax. So, hold up a bit, “catfished,” you say? If you’re not familiar, this is shorthand for being duped into believing you’re in a relationship with someone who does not really exist. The idea is that a person enters into an internet romance without ever actually meeting the person in person. You know, for reals? And then they eventually find out it was all a hoax. Crazy stuff, huh? The truly crazy thing is that, even to this day, this concept is taken for granted as being legitimate– or at least by the producers of the Catfish franchise. You see, it all began with the 2010 movie, so-called, “documentary,” “Catfish,” which went on to become, and currently still is, a show on MTV by the same goofball name. Now, I say all this to make a point: “catfished,” far from genuinely representing a duped lover is the perfect example of how far we’ve fallen from authenticity in the media. As ludicrous as both the movie and show are, as false as the premise is for both the movie and the show, the official word is that it’s all bona fide true! And this sort of hogwash is what our main character Josh (played by Ben Stiller) will not stand for!

You see, Josh is just like you and me. He’s human. He is vulnerable. He is prone to doubting himself. Then along comes what seems to be a younger and smarter version of himself, Jamie (played by Adam Driver). Both men are immersed in the world of documentaries. Well, Josh is for sure, perhaps too immersed as he’s been working on the same rather tiresome film for many years. In fact, it’s taking Josh way too long to speak the truth he so desperately seeks. Or is he lazy and complacent? Out of the fog, emerges Jamie who pops up at one of Josh’s lectures. Josh feels rejuvenated in the presence of the fresh and alive Jamie. Before Josh knows what’s hit him, he and his wife, Cornelia (played by Naomi Watts) are swept up by the youthful charisma of Jamie and his wife, Darby (played by Amanda Seyfried). If only Josh could so effortlessly create and relate to the world in the same way as Jamie, the Young Turk. Ah, but things are not always as they may seem, right?

You could say that, in a way, Josh ends up being “catfished.” I really hate using that term as it brings up that bogus movie and TV show. And I happen to love catfish as a culinary delight. That’s as far as I ever had to go with the word. However, I do dig the new definition I have come up with: catfish: “to denigrate tradition; to ignore honesty and integrity; to forget about ethics.” I think that covers it. So, Josh is not duped into an internet romance. No, but he is duped. I’m not sure that I’m getting out of this film exactly what it has to offer but it’s pretty close. Overall, the idea that it’s not only okay, but expected, that you cut corners, is well expressed here. It could have been better, and more clearly, expressed but, what can you do? We live in times where it’s okay to cut some corners. And, hey, it’s a major Hollywood motion picture. Some corners will get cut! In these cases, you need to imagine the perfect film within the big budget movie. Anyway, I had been meaning to speak on the issue of infotainment and the slippery slope we’ve been heading with faux documentaries. This review was inspired by all the attention to a recent post on Discovery Channel’s TREASURE QUEST: SNAKE ISLAND. That post struck a chord. This response, in the form of a review, will do for now.

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Filed under Documentaries, Movie Reviews, movies, MTV

Comic-Con 2015 Movie Review: ‘Vintage Tomorrows’

Historian James Carrott poses with Cherie Priest. Photo by Ben Z. Mund

Historian James Carrott poses with Cherie Priest. Photo by Ben Z. Mund

“Vintage Tomorrows” has got to be the best title you could give a documentary on the steampunk movement and it lives up to it. This is a much-needed comprehensive look, both informative and quite a lot of fun. The documentary made its world premiere at the Comic-Con Int’l Independent Film Festival this last weekend.

Produced and directed by Byrd McDonald, this documentary is based on the book, “Vintage Tomorrows,” by James Carrott and Brian David Johnson. They’re in the doc and so are many other notable figures. Interviews and appearances include authors William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (The Difference Engine), Cherie Priest (Boneshaker), China Miéville (Perdido Street Station), Cory Doctorow (Makers), Gail Carriger (The Parasol Protectorate series), Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett (Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel), Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (Steampunk, The Steampunk Bible), Nisi Shawl (Everfair) and Phil and Kaja Foglio (Girl Genius), and founder of Steampunk Magazine Margaret ‘Magpie’ Killjoy.

What’s all the fuss about, you ask? The story of steampunk, followers will tell you, is for everyone. To give a sense of the many voices and answers to the question, “What is steampunk?” we begin with a whirlwind of responses from many of the participants. Initial segments are sliced together with one person seeming to complete another’s sentence. “Steampunk is…” leads to answers such as “based upon science fiction of the 19th century” and on down to line to rallying cries such as, “you show up in a top hat and spats and you’re there to cause a riot!”

For an ostensibly literary movement, you would expect a rather low-key and subtle vibe running throughout. And, darn it, that is basically what you have and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, what people who are involved with steampunk would have you know is that there’s a strong sense of wonder, adventure, and excitement attached as well. And things are evolving. What may have begun as a quirky meeting of minds, circa 2005, has found formidable and creative leaders in the last ten years.

Steampunk today takes itself more seriously. The irreverence has been tempered a bit with a higher level of self-scrutiny. For instance, as the documentary explains, in order to be more inclusive, steampunk needed to confront the Victorian era’s colonialism and elitism. While history is what it is, attempts are made to address the past. For instance, you hear one participant say she no longer wears a pith helmet, an obvious symbol to her of colonialism.

Attempts to bring the Victorian era into the 21st century are likely to always be weird but that is part of steampunk. Enthusiasts will tell you that a big method to the madness is an attempt to get back to something tactile and real. While a steampunk follower may own an iPhone or iPad, that doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t do it grudgingly. A recurring battle cry is that we’ve lost something vital with today’s technology. There is no steampunk smart phone or laptop. However, we have each other. We have community. Steampunk encourages you to not be afraid to look backward as you find your way forward.

Be sure to visit the official Vintage Tomorrows website right here.

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Filed under Comic-Con, Documentaries, pop culture, Steampunk

Review: MIKE’S PLACE, published by First Second

Mikes-Place-First-Second

Jack is a journalist in search of a story. It’s 2003 and Iraq is grabbing all the headlines. However, a set of circumstances finds him considering a story set in the Middle East that does not involve conflict. Enter Mike’s Place, a haven for the young and young-at-heart to unwind and enjoy good spirits and great rhythm and blues right off the beach in Tel Aviv. It will be a decidedly odd twist of fate that places Jack in what proves a most compelling story of conflict, and unbridled optimism.

Building upon their work on the documentary, “Blues by the Beach,” Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem have taken what they placed on the screen and reworked it for the comics medium. Along with the thoughtful and energetic art of Koren Shadmi, you have a narrative that naturally flows with a life of its own. Shadmi has carefully developed believable characters that the reader hooks into. This is a story, as the cover makes clear, about a bombing. But not only about a bombing.

Mikes-Place-First-Second-2015

With countless acts of violence and terror in the world, it can all seem a blur. As the characters in this story often say, you have to create your own way of coping amid terror. Throughout, the regulars at Mike’s Place are being interviewed for a documentary exploring the real Israel. One standout is Dominique, a beautiful and lively waitress. Her story, on and off camera, is pivotal. When asked about how she copes with bombings, she says that you need short-term memory as an “immune system.” You deal with it at the time and then move on. She proudly states, “That’s the Israeli way.”

But, how then do you make sense of it all if you’re constantly moving on? Well, you don’t completely forget. It seems that a story like the one about Mike’s Place becomes more powerful with each revisit. It seems that Baxter and Faudem had to process what they experienced and recorded into two separate mediums, as a documentary and then as a graphic novel. You sift through the details and sharpen the focus. What happens, once you have a graphic novel of this caliber, is that you find a greater truth.

You have here a straightforward cadence as the story is presented in comics. The layout foundation on the page is two panels on three rows with variations as needed. This is classic comics storytelling and it works quite well. You don’t need much else in many cases. For this story, this framework sort of mimics the camera in a documentary and evokes reportage in general. In fact, you don’t really notice the panel structure as you are immersed into action. Again, Shadmi does a remarkable job with bringing to life these characters. And, as you’ll see yourself, this graphic novel does a remarkable job of clearing away the clutter and getting to the heart of the matter.

You see here Mike’s Place become the center of conflict. A happy-go-lucky gathering spot, seemingly existing out of time and place, comes crashing down. This is the story of such a place. And how people come together once the unthinkable has happened.

“Mikes’ Place” is a 192-page hardcover published by First Second Books. For more details, visit our friends at First Second right here. You can also find this book here, here, and here.

If you are in the Seattle area, be sure to stop by Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery this Saturday, June 13, and meet the book’s cartoonist, Koren Shadmi. This will be a fun event which includes the debut of a new book by local cartoonist, Greg Stump, “Disillusioned Illusions,” published by Fantagraphics. For more details, go right here.

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Filed under Comics, Documentaries, First Second, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Israel, Middle East

Interview: Don Wildman and ‘Mysteries at the Museum’ (8th Season Begins on Travel Channel, April 3, 9/8 central)

Mysteries-at-the-Museum-2015

Don Wildman, host of Travel Channel's "Mysteries at the Museum

Don Wildman, host of Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum”

Don Wildman leads an active life. Among his many adventures in documentary television, he’s explored hundreds of mysterious tunnels, catacombs, crypts and bunker systems for HISTORY’s hit adventure series, “Cities of the Underworld.” As the host of Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum,” he brings that same spirited determination. Don was gracious enough to chat for an interview where we talk about the show’s own history and what you can expect as it enters its 8th season with its premiere episode this Friday, April 3, 9/8 central. You can find details at Travel Channel right here.

The Mystery of the King in the Parking Lot

The Mystery of the King in the Parking Lot

Each episode of “Mysteries at the Museum” presents six stories coming to you from a wide variety of places. Each is a mystery of one kind or another. And each has an unexpected twist. It is the sort of program that you can relax and enjoy and come away with intriguing facts. It may very well inspire you to read further, explore further, or create your own adventure. If you’re a fan of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, this will appeal to you. One interesting aspect to the show is how you can connect the dots with the past and the current scene. Do you think the Tea Party movement is something entirely new? Well, for example, you’ll want to see what the State of Jefferson movement was all about.

The Mysterious State of Jefferson

The Mysterious State of Jefferson

In this interview, Don gives us an exclusive as he describes the early days of the show with a very funny story involving the best use of props. And we talk about history and museums in general and, of course, about the show’s unique take on creating exciting content. As I’m in Seattle, we talk a bit on the vibrant Seattle museum scene which includes the new Museum of History & Industry and Living Computer Museum. Don clearly has a love for history and adventure. It’s a fun interview and I know it will add to your enjoyment of the show. Just click the link below to listen to the podcast interview:

You can watch “Mysteries at the Museum” on Fridays on Travel Channel, starting this Friday, April 3, 9/8 central. For more details, and clips to the show, be sure to visit Travel Channel right here.

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Filed under Adventure, Documentaries, Don Wildman, Mysteries at the Museum, Television, Travel, Travel Channel

DVD Review: THE ACKERMONSTER CHRONICLES!

The-Ackermonster-Chronicles-Jason-V-Brock

There’s an early moment in Jason V Brock’s documentary about Forrest J Ackerman (1916-2008) that sums it up well for science fiction’s journey to legitimacy. Dan O’Bannon, the writer/director for “Alien” and “Return of the Living Dead,” recounts an episode in his childhood. He is running off to school when his mother admonishes him to be sure he’s not carrying any science fiction with him! Oh boy, what a memory. It goes to show how people looked upon science fiction as something subversive. And they’re right. There is that quality and, of course, that’s something to embrace and celebrate. Back in the early days, as science fiction was coming into its own in pulp fiction and beyond, there came along an individual who would prove to be a perfect spokesperson for the genre, Forrest J Ackerman. “The Ackermonster Chronicles!” faithfully presents to you a vivid picture of a world, a people, an art form, and a person who led the way.

Nothing gets lost in shuffle here. One seemingly disjointed thing connects with another. The elegant and the unsavory lay down together. Science fiction had, some say still has, a bad rap for having too close an association with pop culture and hanging out with other genres like, God forbid, horror. But we’ve come such a long way. In fact, today, we really have a much better perspective. We, at least the more enlightened amongst us, can see so-called literary fiction as a genre, like any other, and not something so up on high. Yes, we value excellence. The problem used to be that any other genre was spat upon and kicked to the curb by the elite literary chieftains. Not so much today as we find countless combinations and recombinations among all genres. And, anyway, great work will ultimately transcend any label you attach to it. The thing is, you need to be open to anything and the work of people like Forrest J Ackerman have helped make that possible.

So, who was Forrest J Ackerman and what did he accomplish? Ackerman provided a way for the general public, especially a younger generation, to tap into a vital art form that had been getting short shrift elsewhere. We’re talking about a huge world, a whole universe, of creativity. Ackerman did the heavy lifting to create a more level playing field. He collected, he documented, he distributed, he promoted, he displayed, he shared. As the founder of the magazine, “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” he opened the flood gates to all manner of fandom and scholarship devoted to a huge facet of culture. This involved monsters, aliens from space, bloody horror, and science fiction. It was a determinedly do-it-yourself gung-ho approach as well as a tempered and highly sophisticated endeavor. He was the literary agent for numerous big name talents including Ray Bradbury, A. E. van Vogt, and Charles Beaumont. The Ackerman archives compromise 200 complete collections of magazines, 50,000 books, and countless one-of-a-kind items. For over 30 years, his home served as a museum open to the public for free. He coined the term, “sci-fi.” He co-created, with Trina Robbins, the legendary character, Vampirella. To sum it up, he was a one-man gateway.

Forrest-J-Ackerman-1916-2008

What Jason V Brock does with this documentary is let all the significant players on the scene simply talk and let you in. This is essential viewing for students of pop culture, science fiction, and art-making in general. This film will prove most useful to any aspiring writer, especially those down a primrose path to a university Creative Writing program. Wipe away any elitist inclinations you may have. Things are not as they might seem. Those things that go bump in the night may prove to save your life.

You can get your copy of “The Ackermonster Chronicles” by visiting our friends at JaSunni Productions right here. And, as of this writing, I have more to share with you about the multi-talented Jason V Brock. We’ll get to that in the weeks ahead. For now, if you happen to be in the Los Angeles area this particular weekend (Sunday, March 22), then go check out the Los Angeles Vintage Paperback Show. You’ll find Jason V Brock there along with a number of other highly talented individuals. Visit the show’s website right here.

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Filed under Documentaries, Famous Monsters, Forrest J Ackerman, Horror, Jason V. Brock, JaSunni Productions, Sci-Fi, science fiction