I Watch A Lot Of Documentaries: Dalekmania, American Grindhouse, Trumbo & Mayor Of The Sunset Strip

I Watch A Lot Of Movies will most likely be a recurring feature here on the blog because it’s a plain fact. Because I work from home and I like to have something on to either watch or listen to while I do so, I go through a lot of movies, shows, podcasts and records. Sometimes I give them their own write-ups, but sometimes I don’t have as much to say. So, IWALOM will be a kind of catch-all for the things I want to say a few words on. As it happens, I’ve been on a bit of a documentary going back to when I watched and wrote about Too Tough To Die and Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop a few weeks ago.

One of the more curious documentaries I’ve seen on Netflix Instant has to be Dalekmania (1995) which I assumed would be about the history of the Doctor Who baddies. Instead, as the subtitle explains, it’s actually the story of Daleks and the Doctor on the big screen. Back in 1965 Peter Cushing starred as a tweaked version of the character in a big screen flock that remade one of the few serials I’ve actually seen: The Daleks.

Much like the 1996 Fox-produced Doctor Who movie, the movie and it’s sequel, the awesomely named Invasion Earth: 2015, neither film is in cannon, but that doesn’t mean they don’t look interesting. Seeing a documentary based on a pair of films I’ve never seen was cool because it’s not like I had heard any of these stories before. The downside? The movies aren’t on any kind of Netflix so I can’t check them out, which is a little frustrating. It seems like everyone involved (and living) was interviewed and you also get to see a cool collection of Dalek and Who memorabilia from a husband and wife collector team. Worth checking out for Who fans even if they don’t HAVE to know about these flicks.

I was kind of disappointed by American Grindhouse (2010), especially after being so impressed by essentially the Australian version of this doc called Not Quite Hollywood. While Not Quite really seemed to just jump in and celebrate their schlocky movies, Grindhouse seems to take an almost clinical approach which saps some of the fun out of the proceedings.  A big contributor to that feeling is how specifically they define “grindhouse.’ Instead of being about low budget movies sent to drive ins or cheap theaters, we’re told that an actual grindhouse was a theater that would never shut down or stop showing movies. Uh, okay. It’s the equivalent of someone telling you in great detail that what you’re blowing your nose in isn’t actually a Kleenex, but a facial tissues.

The opposite side of the specificity coin is that you actually get treated to lots of different kinds of movies than you might expect, going all the way back to the early days of film. The movie points out that, almost as soon as people figured out how to use movie cameras, they started pointing them at naked ladies. I actually learned this in either high school or college and was blown away at the time because you kind of assume that everything was super prudey back in the day, but in reality people are people and are always curious about things like that.

The film also boasts a quality group of talking heads including John Landis, Joe Dante, William Lustig and plenty of others. Everyone brings something interesting to the table, it’s just a broader table than I was expecting when I turned it on.

I probably wouldn’t have given a movie called Trumbo (2007) if not for the awesome image on this poster. A dude writing in the bathtub? I love it! The story found in the documentary is even more interesting. Dalton Trumbo was one of the infamous Hollywood Ten, a group of writers who were blacklisted for communist leanings thanks to McCarthy and the ridiculous red scare. He wrote movies like The Devil’s Playground, Roman Holiday, Spartacus, Johnny Got His Gun and plenty of others, some of which were credited to other writers who fronted for him and some of the other Hollywood Ten.

The doc has an interesting style that takes many of Trumbo’s writings and has famous actors do dramatic readings. I didn’t realize what was happening at first when people like Michael Douglas, Brian Dennehy, Paul Giamatti and others started doing these monologues in dark rooms, I was confused, but I soon caught on and enjoyed the method. Apparently, this film is based on the stage play of one of Trumbo’s  sons, which makes that all make a lot more sense.

I like that Trumbo never lost faith or face, really, kept writing and later on didn’t seem too bitter about what happened. He definitely answered some questions with a sharp wit, but he didn’t seem bitter, which is inspiring considering the mountains of bullshit heaped upon him.

Like a lot of things on Netflix,  I didn’t really know what Mayor Of The Sunset Strip (2003). For some reason I thought it was about a guy who was influential in the 80s metal scene on the Sunset Strip. It’s actually about Rodney Binginheimer, a dude who started out as a groupie in the 60s, met practically every rock star, got nicknamed in a Beach Boys song, became one of the most influential DJs in music history and is still kicking.

I found this story so fascinating because Bingenheimer is ridiculously damaged. Yes, he’s met every single important rock and roll musician since the medium was practically invented and yes he has (or at least had) a great deal of power in his business, but he is also a sad, lonely man with mom issues. The portrait painted is that of a man who prefers not to be in the spotlight, but absolutely expects to be just on the fringes now. It’s also the story of a man whose time as come and gone, though that’s not the main focus. Towards the end of the movie, the man with ridiculous hair tells the camera that he’s only got one night a week as a DJ on KROQ which clearly bums him out. The only time he expresses any real, obvious emotions happens in a scene where his radio protege finishes a show and Bingenheimer is pissed because he thinks the younger man has basically stolen his entire schtick.

For me, Mayor has two lessons to be learned. First, it shows me that anyone can become important. There was nothing truly special about Rodney Bingenheimer, nothing that would make him an obvious maven of a culture movement. But, he physically got himself where he needed to be and worked his way up to becoming ridiculously influential. That’s the American dream, right? Well, the second lesson shows what can happen if you don’t balance your life out. Even with all his power and influence, something about his personality didn’t allow him to capitalize on it too much and he has essentially faded out of prominence. The lesson is to both keep working even after reaching prominence, but also that all the importance in the world doesn’t fix your problems. You’ve got to work on that stuff on your own and it didn’t seem to me like Bingenheimer has done that.

Just Finished Doctor Who Series 6.0 (2011)

Well, that was quite the half season, wasn’t it? My initial reaction to hearing that the sixth season of Doctor Who was split in two halves was negative, but the positive aspect that I wasn’t taking into account was that it would mean I would get the episodes in my hands a lot faster (we don’t get BBC America or torrent, so we wait for them to pop up on Netflix). I also discovered that seven episodes are a lot easier to take in and absorb than twice that which is good when doing so in a fairly short period of time. Something I’ve talked about before when watching seasons like this is that, in our zeal to finish them, we miss some of the details. And even if we don’t miss the details, it becomes information overload at times. We watched the fifth season–and all the seasons of Doctor Who post-relaunch, really–that way and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure who some of the callback characters were by the end of this half of this season.

My other concern with watch a half season of a series was that it would end on a cliffhanger and we’d be waiting however long to see the next one. Halfway through the last episode of the second disc, I asked a buddy about torrents, but I wound up not downloading them. I can’t stand watching shows on my computer when I’ve got a perfectly good TV sitting right there. Anyway, this fear of getting something less-than what I’m used to proved to not be an issue.

I think these might be the seven best consecutive episodes that I can remember. Some basic plot spoilers follow. “The Impossible Astronaut” was a pretty gigantic mindbonk that set up the rest of the season. That carried directly over into “Day Of The Moon” which not only went back to the 60s, but also utilized the brilliantly designed Silence who can only be remembered when they’re seen. As soon as you turn away, they disappear from your memory. Awesome idea. “The Curse Of The Black Spot” combined pirates and aliens in such a way that I want to see a spin-off of those dudes flying through space. “The Doctor’s Wife” was a brilliant episode written by one of my all time favorite writers Neil Gaiman that took the TARDIS’ consciousness and placed it inside a human being. It was great hearing their shared history from the point of view of the TARDIS. I think this might be one of my favorite episodes of the show as a whole and I thought that even before I remembered Gaiman’s involvement.

The fifth and sixth episodes comprised a two-parter called “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People.” This pair featured a group of scientists who used doppelgangers to physically do the things that they couldn’t do. As it turned out the ‘gangers were actually gaining sentience which lead to a pretty awesome series of moments reminiscent of those in The Thing where you don’t know who you’re talking to or who to trust (at least as a viewer). And that ending! Gah! Crazytown!

All of which brings us to the “A Good Man Goes To War.” Wow. Usually episodes this good and packed with awesome are two or even three parters and come at the end of a long season. This one comes right in the middle and stands out as quite the tentpole. By bringing back those characters from previous seasons (or were they all just from 5, my memory sucks) and pitting them all against an actual army of enemies with such high stakes (double high stakes, really), the writers really upped the ante and presented a quality hour of television that is also pretty high up on my “faves” list. Even better? It presumably leads into something bigger and hopefully better by the end of the actual season. Oh and they didn’t even rely on the Cybermen or Daleks too much. Bonus points there. Plus those final two reveals are just bonkers. Even with so much goodness, my favorite part of the season has to be the awesomification of Rory Pond. I don’t remember a whole lot about him from the previous season other than he was jealous of the Doctor (who wouldn’t be) and seemed like kind of a wimp. But then he did that whole Last Centurion thing, so that’s pretty great, right? They really built off that this season, developing him as a husband and potential father, leading him on a Taken-esque streak of badassness that was written and performed perfectly. I’d face those stupid Cybermen too if anyone tried to get between me and my family. Maybe that’s why I liked Rory a lot more this season, he went from being just a boyfriend to a husband. I can relate to that and I can’t wait to see what Rory does to those who get in his way with the second half of the season. Oh, and the Doctor too, I guess.

Who’s Who: Doctor Who The Beginning Disc 1 “The Daleks”

Well, that’s frustrating. I’ve had the first disc of the Doctor Who: The Beginning set sitting around for the past few days and just finally sat down to watch it while doing some work today. I was pretty interested to see the first episode to get some kind of understanding as to how the series kicked off, but instead I’ve got a disc containing the second arc which features the first appearance of the infamous Daleks. I’m not quite sure why BBC/Warner Bros. (not sure if it’s like this on the Region 2 discs) would put these serials out of order, but it’s annoying. If everything was just on Instant Netflix there’d be no problem because I’d just pop over to the correct episodes and go from there, but as it is, I’m going to watch these and then move on the first episodes. Not exactly how I wanted to go about it, but not really all that terrible in the grand scheme of things. For what it’s worth, I’m trying to get all my information from the episodes themselves instead of looking things up, like total immersion in a language to see what I can understand.

The story starts with the Doctor (played by William Hartnell) landing the TARDIS on a dead planet with his granddaughter (how was that explained?) and two adult companions, one a middle aged woman named Barbara, the other a younger man named Ian. This version of the Doctor is a salty fellow who doesn’t seem too pleased to be stuck with the companions, demanding to explore the dead city and not worrying about whether he can get Barbara and Ian back home. As the title of the serial indicates, the gang runs afoul of the Daleks while searching the city.

Wow, I wrote those first two paragraphs while the first episode went into the second (there’s seven episodes in this serial) and a lot of craziness happens, but it’s also kind of slow and plodding though not necessarily boring. There’s another alien race on this planet and some radiation and the Doctor and his companions get captured by the Daleks. A LOT happens and I don’t think I caught all of it. My fellow fans of the relaunch will also note that the Daleks don’t recognize the Doctor at all and there’s no mention of the Time Lord/Dalek war. Heck, at one point, Ian and the Doctor crack a Dalek open, pull out the weird alien thing inside and Ian jumps in to drive it around. I thought that was an awesome bit of business. After that there’s a battle of sorts between the other aliens who are pacifists and the Daleks that involves a lot of running through caverns and stuff. I’ll be honest, I got lost along the way, but I liked it enough to move the first disc up towards the top of the ol’ Netflix queue to hopefully have a better idea of what’s going on.

Just Finished Doctor Who Season 4 (2008)

After being thoroughly disappointed by the third season of Doctor Who, I wasn’t super excited to watch the fourth. But as the missus didn’t dislike it nearly as much as I did, we continued on, though not quite as quickly as we did through the other seasons. But, damn, I’m glad we did, because the fourth season of Doctor Who is up there with the first as a favorite in my book. From bringing Donna back into the fold to aliens made of human fat and killer cars to one of the greatest team-up finales of all time, I had a fantastic time this season. I think I liked it so much because the writers seemed to be exploring new territory or at least not as old and tired territory as the previous season, and, considering you’ve got another encounter with a famous author, that’s saying something.

I wasn’t super jazzed about checking out the Roman empire in “The Fires Of Pompeii,” but even that was a pretty entertaining episode. After that, though, things really kicked up a few notches. Throughout the previous season, I spent a good deal of time reading comics and trades while the shows were playing, but season four’s episodes kept me mostly glued to the screen. I will say that Donna living two fake lives so close together in the episodes “Forest Of The Dead” and “Turn Left” was a little boring because, as any longtime fan of sci-fi knows, these episodes don’t really have much lasting effect. I get the idea that the character is supposed to remember that extra life for the rest of theirs, but it’s a little strange seeing two of them two episodes apart. I did like seeing how things would have changed if Donna didn’t show up. It was very “It’s A Wonderful Life” but I didn’t even notice until writing about it the next day.

“The Doctor’s Daughter,” “Silence In The Library,” “Forest Of The Dead,” “Midnight,” “Turn Left,” “The Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End” were all stellar episodes, especially those last two. I kind of figured that Rose would be involved after popping up in strange ways throughout the season, but by also including Martha, Captain Jack and the Torchwood crew, Sarah Jane and her son, the former prime minister, those Rhino guys, the Shadow Proclamation, Micky, Rose’s mom, a Doctor clone, Daleks, Davors and K9 was RAD. I’d say this is up there with one of my favorite season finales of all time. Loved it and it also made me want to check out Torchwood and maybe Sarah Jane Adventures.

Also, real quick, I didn’t think I would like Donna as The Doctor’s companion, but she grew on me very quickly. In fact, her goodness made me realize how kind of boring Martha was. She was cool popping up here and there this season as this badass, but she was rarely like that last season.

So, the Christmas special is up at the top of our Netflix queue and the next special is on Instant. The final two will be released on the 2nd. I’m not sure if they’ll be disc-only or on instant. Does anyone know why some Doctor Who stuff is on instant and some isn’t? I want to check out some of the old stuff, but the very first batch is on disc only and there’s a lot of other newer DVDs I want to check out. Also, if you’re curious to see what’s available on Netflix, check out this handy dandy blogpost over on Netflix that lists every Doctor Who episode and series in order and offers up links for whatever’s available on DVD or instant.

So, when does season five start airing over here?

Just Finished: Doctor Who Season 2 (2006)

After burning through season one in two days, I’m sure it’s no surprise that we made our way through the second in four or five (stupid work gets in the way). Everyone said that the second season was a lot better, but I’m not so sure, they’re both at a pretty high level in my mind. I guess now everyone who’s caught up is getting used to the idea of a new Doctor, but I’m still kind of swooning for Christopher Eccleston. Don’t get me wrong, I like David Tennant’s take on the Doc a lot, I guess that just comes with the Doctor Who territory.

Overall, I thought this was a really solid season, that retained all the elements I liked from the first season (heart, doing well with limited resources and genuinely creepy villains). There was one episode that stuck out though that I didn’t really like: “Fear Her.” It just didn’t make any sense to me. Why did the little girl have to draw the people to make them disappear? She’s not that good of an artist, so who’s to say she’s not making every little kid with brown hair disappearing? How does drawing a picture of the world count? In a series that usually makes a lot of sense, this episode just seemed kind of slapped together. Also, exactly how many of these episodes are about humanity letting some alien race trick them into complacency? There’s been a ton so far.

Aside from that though, good stuff all around. I liked the Torchwood “mystery” throughout the season, though I already knew what it was. To be honest, I still have no idea how Rose is the big bad wolf or whatever from the first season. I get that she has a connection to the Doctor, but how does that translate into her being a wolf? If anyone understands, please let me know. Anyway, I’m looking forward to also checking out the Torchwood show.

Mickey had a really good arc this season too. I’m glad they did something with him instead of just letting him sit around and bitch. Which brings me to the two part finale “Army Of Ghosts” and “Doomsday.” Man, that was a crazy ass couple of episodes. Cyberman AND Daleks? Nice! The way he took them out seemed a little easy (especially with millions of Daleks popping out of that prison, but how could you not get a little choked up when Rose disappeared into the other dimension with her not-dad or later when the Doctor ran out of time to say “I love you.” Good stuff. I’ll miss Billie Pipers hotness and spirit, but I’m glad she got a relatively happy ending (though Em didn’t like it and cried a little).

A few questions for established Who fans. Does anyone else think that the two-parters tend to drag? It seems so to me with a few exceptions. Also, has a time-traveling Doctor ever run into a past version of himself? I know there have been episodes with past Doctors meeting up somehow, but is it theoretically possible that, say, Tennant could travel to a time when his past self in the form of say, the guy with the girl hair and scarf is also at? Just curious.

Just Finished: Doctor Who Season 1 (2005)

After four years of hearing about it, I finally decided to give Doctor Who a shot and it was all thanks to a conversation held at this year’s New Year’s Eve party. Em overheard James talking to someone about Doctor Who and asked me about it yesterday. I had added it to the instant Netflix queue just in case, but never got around to starting it. Noting that we didn’t really have much to watch this weekend, Em suggested we give it a shot and we did. So much of a shot that we watched all 13 episodes of the first season in two days, starting yesterday.

I think Em may have gotten more into it than I did, but unlike Weeds (a show she loves and I can hardly stand) I still had fun watching it and was often able to read a comic or two while the episodes were on. I really liked Christopher Eccleston as the The Doctor and find myself drawn to Billie Piper. I was impressed with how well put together the show is. Sure there’s some bad special effects, but the writers do a great job of getting to the heart of the matter even while throwing our heroes up against walking mannequins and Daleks. I was also surprised at how well they did at making things creepy, and I mean really creepy. The people with the gas masks from the episodes “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances” gave me the chills. And the first Dalek that we see in “Dalek” even had me going for a little why, but their high, shrill voices reminded me of Timmy from South Park which is interesting because they’re basically shrunken bodies using a machine to cart them around. Go figure.

I also want to mention two other things that I really liked. First up was Simon Pegg’s appearance as The Editor in “The Long Game.” I was kind of half paying attention when Em said something like “Look at this guy who’s trying to be Simon Pegg.” I looked at the screen and after a few moments realized it was, in fact, him. I remembered that someone gave someone an action figure of the character last year. Now I think I might need to track him down. I also really liked the British TV shows that made it into the future with some minor (and murderous) tweaks in the last two episodes of the season. There was Big Brother, Weakest Link and What Not To Wear (the British versions of course). Now, I don’t really know a lot about any of those shows other than the idea of an AnneDroid hosting Weakest Link is hilarious. I’ve never seen any episodes of Big Brother, but Rickey Gervais’ character does go on the show in the Extra’s Christmas Special which is fantastic and you should check it out, along with the rest of the series. Em noticed the What Not To Wear ladies and got a kick out of them. Can’t wait to burn through the next few seasons, Torchwood (maybe Sarah Jane) and maybe some of the original stuff. What’s worth watching?