Film Review: “Step”

Directed By: Amanda Lipitz
Rated: PG
Running Time: 83 minutes

A 100% percent high school graduation rate isn’t unheard of. However the average graduation rate, depending on your state, hovers anywhere from 66% to 94%, according to U.S. News and World Report. In Maryland though, out of 204 schools, there isn’t a 100% graduation rate at any high school. But you have to dig a little deeper to find the one that accomplished it back in 2016, the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women.

The predominantly African-American middle-high public charter school was an experiment created in 2009. The hope was to help transform the young women in the urban core through strong education and empowerment. “Step” catches up with the first class ever to attend that school, as they get ready to graduate and look to get into college. Specifically we watch three women on the high-school step dance team.

That’s not to take away from the most fascinating part of this film, the public education experiment, which surely isn’t the only one in the country. When the cameras go home with the girls and we see a broken home life, impoverished circumstances, and single moms. We fully grasp that this is a city, at every multi-generational level, working to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. Even behind closed doors at the school, where educators are reaming students over bad grades, we see this disheartening concern in their eyes that their students may not make it and they may never make anything of themselves.

In that regard, “Step” is a wonderfully engaging documentary about perseverance against insurmountable odds. The film’s backdrop is the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore riots which were broadcast for the world to see, and inner city decay. To see these teenage girls being forced to grow up in such harsh conditions and to strive for positivity in the face of hopelessness is one of the most inspiring things an American documentary has shown in years.

There is a little bit of choppiness in the film’s narrative, mainly because the film’s speed is hit on fast forward. It buzzes through people, faces and places in a dizzying whirlwind, instead of taking a breath here and there for reflection. But it also helps prevent the film from becoming too melodramatic and repetitive when detailing the young women’s lives and circumstances.

While the step dance team is certainly the least interesting part of this film, it does play an integral role of playing by subliminally layering in sports movie tropes about self-esteem and tenacity. It makes many of the film’s moments, like one girl getting a full ride scholarship to college and another girl making a last minute to even be considered for acceptance, that much more impactful. “Step” is an encouraging dose of reality that America’s future will be in capable hands.

Louis Theroux on “My Scientology Movie”

British documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux is no stranger to controversial subjects. In his wide-ranging tv career, the unflappable Theroux has immersed himself in subcultures ranging from US TV infomercials to Neo-Nazis and the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. For his first feature film documentary, Theroux acted on a years-long fascination with the Church of Scientology. When the notoriously secretive Church wouldn’t admit Theroux to film their practices directly, the documentary took a much more unique approach. Theroux, director John Dower and crew turned instead to former Scientologists to share their experiences within the church and decided to film re-enactments of their stories. Their filming, including casting their own version of Church leader David Miscavige in the form of actor Andrew Perez, quickly drew the attention of the church. The crew finds itself being tailed, filmed and even confronted on public property. The resulting documentary is at once an entertaining examination of the alleged inner workings of the church as well as a realtime account of the lengths the church goes to to defend itself. The film made its debut at last spring’s Tribeca Film Festival where I sat down with Theroux as well as John Dower and Andrew Perez to discuss their impressions of the church and how the doc came together.

Lauren Damon: Before you started making the film, how much did you know, or thought you knew about Scientology?

Louis Theroux: I think I thought I knew quite a lot—

John Dower: You do know a lot.

Louis: Yeah, I mean but then to be honest with you, I’d first been interested in Scientology you know, more than 20 years ago. And then in 2002 or thereabouts, I made my first approach and took a tour of the celebrity center and basically was in negotiation to make a tv doc that way. That fizzled out. And then about ten years after that, our producer Simon Chinn came to me and said ‘Hey what about a theatrical doc? You know, we could do it on Scientology’ And by then—it was around then that the first book, Janet Reitman’s book,  Inside Scientology came out, I read that…I mean the fact is that you could really make a full time job of kind of reading the stuff that comes out on Scientology. The challenge in a way is to not kind of sink into the quagmire…there’s so many threads that you can follow, you know what I mean?

John: You know there’s stories from the past that could be made to whole films themselves.

Louis: You could make a film about just what [ex-Church leader and My Scientology Movie star] Marty Rathbun did in the 80s.

John: The Lisa McPherson Story…

Louis: The Lisa McPherson story. Or you could do one of Clearwater in the 70s and 80s or Bob Minton. About how he went from being a critic to being a Scientology supporter. Or at least agnostic. I mean it’s a lot of individual…and then there’s whole family stories. Not just Lisa McPherson but other ones…There’s a lot. The challenge is not kind of lack of material. It’s a sort of an overabundance.

LD: And that’s also just before you even get to researching what the beliefs are which is also so involved.

Louis: That’s right.

LD: And then Andrew, what had been your experience?

John Dower, Louis Theroux and Andrew Perez

Andrew Perez: I knew just I’d heard some stories of experiences just sort of on the top—the intro levels of communications and courses. I knew that it was on the surface, or to beginners it was a kind of self-actualization, a kind of self-help, kind of therapeutic…I mean going through past trauma and weeding out sensory things that you associate with that. And seeing The Master. So I did have a kind of a good intuition about the introduction to it and why it makes some people get into it. And also the fact that there was also a sort of deep sea of mystery after that intro couple courses or whatever.

Louis: It’s really interesting because—you know when you read Dianetics, like the kernel of what Scientology is is basically just a kind of take on Pavlov’s dog, isn’t it? It’s just about sort of sensory associations.

Andrew: Yeah.

Louis: And when you read Dianetics, it’s got a volcano and it’s like “This is the most amazing book I’ve ever read in my life!” it’s all “Rome fell because of not having a science of the mind!”…Then you find out it’s all about you stubbed your toe and an ambulance went by and now every time you hear an ambulance, you get a sore toe. And you’re like “That’s IT?!” That’s the modern science of mental health? How could anyone think that that was the answer to life’s mysteries?

LD: Then going back, when you considered doing it as a tv series, what do you think it was that made it warrant making a feature movie?

Louis: That’s a good question. And in a way that’s maybe something John would be better at answering.

John: This is my first feature. Yeah, there are…little nuts and bolts, like I think you need a great musical score for instance. And I do think the music in this film is amazing. The composer Dan Jones did an extraordinary score in this film and it needs a sense of scale. If you want people to play eight or nine quid or fifteen bucks, you know they need to feel like they’re getting something with a sense of scale. And I think Scientology has that built into it anyway. And it needs to be entertaining, it needs to feel like you know, it’s…You can ask Michael Moore, he says about his films he wants them to be like date movies. That people will go on dates. You know, it’s a big deal to go to the cinema these days. And I’d like to think that that’s in our film. I’d like to think that it’s entertaining. It’s got to be, it’s a movie.

Louis: For me, I think also it has to do with like in my tv stuff, it is fundamentally journalism and so I have agency but in terms of my place in the film and how I kind of change and push through the journey through the tv shows, but in this one I really do actually really kind of take the story—take the bull by the horns in a sense. So you’ve got—I’m much more of a protagonist which I think is important for the film to work….You know I’m the guy ‘on a mission’ in a sense.

LD: Had it ever crossed your mind to try and surreptitiously join the church?

Louis: Yeah we talked about it—

John: That was floated at one point.

Louis: Obviously when you’re brainstorming, you don’t—everything’s about ‘let’s talk about…well what’re the merits? What’re the ethics of doing this? How would it feel?’ I think quite quickly we concluded that it didn’t feel right.

John: Bad faith…for something like this.

Louis: Plus you wouldn’t even get to see very much. You know without actually having access to someone inside the SeaOrg and even then it might takes months to really get deep inside…Actually while we were making it, I did go along to the Los Feliz mission to just see what happens when you go in the front door. And just show up and say ‘What is this all about?’ To me it was interesting because I’m fascinated by Scientology but imagining if we’d been filming, it would not have been very interesting. It’s just there is a sort of hard-sell that they do at the church.

Marty Rathbun and Theroux filming an auditing re-enactment

LD: How long were you shooting your re-enactments before you were aware you were being tailed?

Louis: Marty said that ‘This car has turned up before’, do you remember that?

John: I think we were probably being tailed when we didn’t realize. There was a couple of times—that car, that white Toyota pickup truck that’s in that scene—one of our PA’s Shane said ‘I’ve seen that at the hotel before.’ You know, a good few days before. Maybe even on a previous trip. So we were probably being tailed but we didn’t realize.

Louis: The first time Marty tippled that we had been tailed, though I don’t think I believed him at the time, was the day we did the drills at the studio.

John: Oh yeah, he dashed around the corner, didn’t he?

Louis: Yeah, I mean that was the same day as two people turned up filming us who were journalists. I don’t know if they actually were Scientologists but on the same day Marty said ‘This car is suspicious.’

LD: So like a couple weeks in?

Louis: Well no, it was a while, we were filming more than a year. About two months in.

John: So how did they know that we put out a casting for David Miscavige?

Louis: I mean that casting went out on the wire, didn’t it?

John: I guess so.

Louis: So it wasn’t a secret.

Andrew: But yeah that’s one thing that we’ve said was that they knew that you’d done the casting for a young David Miscavige with Marty in the room.

John: With Marty, that was the kicker. So I wonder did they follow Marty the first day he arrived—

Louis: Maybe.

John: So maybe they were following us from the—

Louis: Anytime Marty came into LA, there’s a chance they might have known about it.

LD: Andrew, when you saw that casting how did you react to it? How did you feel knowing you were kind of playing half yourself and half re-enactments?

Andrew: I just came in, I knew they were doing re-enactments, it said like a BBC documentary on Scientology and I just—I knew that they were kind of shooting outside as I was entering, so I was aware of that and I just focused on playing the role. And I didn’t know where it was all going. It was kind of fun…They would go back to England and then they would come back and have some more material for me and it was kind of a workshop at first. Mike Rinder would show up, Marty was normally there. So I was learning through Marty. They were shooting the rehearsals. There’s a lot that you don’t see that was just the process of….So we were in a blackbox theater listening, watching Marty lead some auditing kind of sessions. Then we did that day at the Mack Sennett Studios, a full day of communication TR training and things. But yeah, I knew that there would be some stuff of just me being me…but I just wanted to focus on the role.

LD: Now do you guys have any idea of where all that footage that they shot of you goes?

Louis: I think it goes into an editing suite somewhere probably in Hemet, California and I think they will be piecing it together into some kind of online video.

John: I suspect they’re waiting for the film to be here. It’s already been seen in the UK—been to festivals in the UK, I think they’re more interested about…I have no idea.

Louis: I think they’re waiting to see what happens with our film and if our film reaches a certain kind of having a profile, that they will release their counterpunch.

John: It would be great if—obviously it would never happen but—I imagine theirs is going to be a shorter film given they only filmed us on two or three occasions…It would be great if, you know how they used to have shorts before the main feature? It would be nice to have theirs.

LD: Is the church as prevalent in the UK as it is here?

Louis: No. It exists and it has high profile kind of missions in locations—orgs, they call them— on Tottenham Court Road and by Paddington…but in terms of their actual number of followers, I think it’s really small.

John: No, it’s quite telling that there’s a road in London—Tottenham Court Road— and they have an Org on Tottenham Court Road and actually there was a time when it was very, in 90s even, I worked in the company around the corner and there were always people sitting outside, always people trying to get you to do a personality test but it’s just dead now. There’s like one person at the front desk, which is quite telling in and of itself.

My Scientology Movie is in select theaters, OnDemand and available to stream on Amazon and iTunes starting March 10th. For more information visit MyScientologyMovie.com.

Members of White Zombie, Queens Of The Stone Age, Primus, Ministry and More Expose Truths in New Tell-All Documentary About 90’s Alternative Rock

UNDERGROUND INC.: The Unsung Story of Alternative Rock
 
Members of White Zombie, Queens Of The Stone Age, Primus, Ministry and More Expose Truths in New Tell-All Documentary About 90’s Alternative Rock
 
Watch the Official Film Trailer Here
 
Make UNDERGROUND INC. a Reality by Supporting via Kickstarter
It was the early 90’s – seemingly out of nowhere, a little grunge band called Nirvana began outselling massive commercial artists like Michael Jackson. This immediately caught the attention of the giant record companies. These small underground bands branded as ‘alternative’ or ‘post-punk’, went from being inconsequential to being potential behemoths in record sales – and the hunt began.
 
Hungrily sweeping for the next Nirvana, a buying frenzy ensued as small indie labels were bought out by the commercial labels on a never before seen scale. A&R execs would see random alt-rock bands perform in a bar and appear after their set offering unheard of financial offers and immediate global exposure. It seemed these band members were set for life – so what happened?
 
Verity is revealed in UNDERGROUND INC.: The Unsung Story of Alternative Rock, an upcoming documentary destined to be the ultimate look at the alternative punk and metal scene in the 90’s, and a must see for serious music lovers. Told by the artists who pioneered a sonic subculture, this feature-length documentary tells the real story of the 90’s – exposing viewers to an amazing catalog of the era’s rarities and buried treasures, while re-living the struggles, triumphs and tragedies, as well as the debauchery. UNDERGROUND INC. will dig beneath the manufactured truth to explore what really happened, exploring a time unlike any other in the music industry!
 
UNDERGROUND INC. features interviews with members of seminal 90’s rock, punk and metal groups such as White Zombie, Queens Of The Stone Age, Primus, Bad Religion, Stone Sour, Clutch, Red Fang, Failure, Ministry, Quicksand, Helmet, Steve Albini, Sepultura and dozens more. Viewers are getting an in-depth, raw look at the scene from musicians who were at the forefront.
 
 
UNDERGROUND INC.‘s original music is composed by Peter Mengede (Helmet), Grammy nominated record producer Alex Newport (The Mars Volta, Bloc Party, Death Cab For Cutie) and Mark Bradridge.
 
In order to get this documentary out of the creation stages and into the homes of music lovers, the creators of UNDERGROUND INC. have launched a Kickstarter campaign. The Kickstarter campaign will run for 32 days, and the project goal is $40,000.
 

Film Review: “Where to Invade Next”

Review by Mike Smith
Starring:
  Michael Moore
Directed by:  Michael Moore
Rated:  R
Running time:  1 hr 59 mins
IMG Films
Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

It’s been six years since Michael Moore released a documentary.  He spent that time traveling the world on a mission. To make America the best country in the world.  And he accomplishes this by “invading” other countries and, by planting the US flag, “claiming” their riches for America.

The film begins with a series of news clips from the past 40 years, highlighting our Commander’s in Chief talking about world issues.  Moore overlaps those sound bites with current footage of things happening in the US.  “What happened,” he asks?  How can we make, with apologies to Donald Trump, America great again?

Moore begins his journey in Italy, where he learns that the average worker receives seven weeks vacation each year, along with another dozen federal holidays off.  If you get married your employer gives you three weeks off – with pay – for your honeymoon.  And if you’re too busy, don’t worry.  Your vacation days roll over.  He interviews one police officer who has 80 days “in the bank,” not including the current years seven weeks.  The police man and his wife are horrified when they learn that American workers are guaranteed ZERO weeks vacation by law.

In France he visits a public school, where lunch is served on real plates and is usually a four course event.  In Finland, he “claims” the education system; in Sweden, the prison system, where inmates sentenced to maximum security are greeted by a welcome video of the prison guards singing “We Are the World.”

As he continues his travels he comments on how things got away from us here in the states.  What is amazing is that, when he asks the foreign leaders how they came up with their ideals, they cite that they are based on the same principles that the U.S. was based upon.  Moore goes about the film with his usual sarcastic wit but the message isn’t lost. Also not lost is the message that almost 60% of our taxes goes to support our military.  In Italy, a country with only two warships, it is 1%.

Fans of Moore will appreciate his ideas behind the film.  Those who aren’t probably won’t.  To them I suggest moving to Germany, where your local doctor can write you a prescription for a three-week stay at a posh spa to relieve the tension.

Frank Pavich talks about directing documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune”

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Classics

Frank Pavich is the director of the new fantastic documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune”, which chronicles about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s never made film version of Frank Herbet’s “Dune”. He has also worked as a production manager on TV shows like “Paranormal State”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat “Dune” with Frank and find out about how he got involved with Jodorowsky and his passion for what he does.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you get involved with the documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune”?
Frank Pavich: You just hear and read about these things like “The Top 50 Greatest Movies Never Made”. I was a fan of Jodorowsky and his movies like “Holy Mountain” and “El Topo” going back to even when you couldn’t get it except on like crazy VHS bootlegs. There was a small segment about his unfinished “Dune” in a documentary called “Jodorowsky Constellation”, but it only ran like five minutes. But during it you see his screenplay book and I thought to myself “What the hell is that book?” Once you see that book, you feel the need to just learn more and more about it. So I searched and search until one day, there was no more information out there that I hadn’t seen. So I decided to just find the guy himself and speak with him.

MG: How did you end up tracking him down and convincing him to do this?
FP: I wish I could tell you what made him do it. I think the only thing I can say was from my obvious unbridled enthusiasm. I was searching for him and I found that he has an agent in Spain for acting. I didn’t even know he acted in movies other than his own but obviously he does because he has this agent. I just sent her an email and explained my situation. She took my email and just forwarded it to him. So then a couple of weeks later, I just happen to wake up to an email from Alejandro Jodorowsky. It was awesome. If I remember correctly, I didn’t even open it for like a week. I was afraid if he wrote “Dear Frank….NO!” It would have crushed my dreams. So when I opened it included was a very short message saying “I hear you are looking for me? I live in Paris and if you would like to discuss doing a project like this we would need to meet face to face”. I was like “GREAT! You don’t have to twist my arm”. I made an appointment and went to his house to discuss. I gave him the short pitch and either he just thought I was crazy or deep down that we weren’t going to finish it but he agreed to do a few interviews. So we started and went back a few times to shoot more and more interviews over time. Overall, I think it worked out really well.

MG: What I loved about this documentary is that there wasn’t like a million interviews…
FP: Oh, I hate those.
MG: Right! You had the key 10 people involved and that is all.
FP: That is what I always wanted to do. I hate those documentaries where it is only 90 minutes long and features 90 people. I can’t follow who is who and I can’t follow what is going on. Each person comes on for a half a sentence and I just get lost. I wanted to keep it to a minimum number of people. We had the greatest storyteller in the world.
MG: I agree, most importantly you kept Jodorowsky in the spotlight…
FP: Thanks for picking up on that man!

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Classics

MG: What was it liked getting to review Jodorowsky’s screenplay book during your meetings?
FP: It’s funny because the first time I met him to pitch him the idea; we sat on these two chairs facing each other and in between us what this ottoman with books on it. He had actually placed THE “Dune” book on there but he never let me look at it and I didn’t ask. It was like he was teasing me with it [laughs]. It was so cruel but also hilarious. But the book was amazing. Once you get to go inside of it, you get to see that is in fact a complete film. It has every scene from the first to the very last. It also has every bit of dialogue and character details. It is something that I do not think was ever done before. It was ready to go and be filmed. What was also very interesting is that the screenplay was totally different than the book of storyboards, since it evolved over time. As he got all his “spiritual warriors”, it started to change. Just like if he would have gotten to shoot it, I am sure it would have evolved again. It is really interesting to see the process of his creativity.

MG: Tell us about the animation in the film and how was it getting to bring parts of Jodorowsky’s “Dune” come to life?
FP: We had this great animator, his name was Syd Garon. I met him through another friend and I thought that his work was perfect. He had that perfect light touch. I didn’t want to overdue the animation because it is not my vision of “Dune”, it is his vision. I just wanted to take those storyboards, which are primarily pencil on paper and breath enough life into them to elevate it off the page a little and hopefully then the viewer’s imagination will fill in the rest. It straddles the that middle ground between the storyboard and what the actual completed feature film would have been like. It was so much fun to do. We went through the book and literally got to pick out the scenes that we wanted to bring to life.

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Classics

MG: What was his reaction when he saw these animated sequences?
FP: He has this philosophy when he directs his movie for everyone to leave him alone and he doesn’t want to hear from anyone since he is the artist. That is great and that is why we get the kind of movies that he makes. So I was afraid that he was going to be over my shoulder the whole time but he was definitely not a hypocrite. He believes that for himself and believed that for me as well. He let me do what I wanted and didn’t bother me at all. The first time he saw it was at the premiere at Cannes. It was a really cool experience and a really great place for him to see it. Him and his wife were next to me watching it and kept trying to peak over at them to see if they were laughing, interested or sleeping [laughs]. I could see that they were really enthralled and into it. They were also both wiping away tears at the end, which is great because you always want to make an 85 year old man cry [laughs].

MG: Having seen the film a few times now and I agree the film is quite dramatic.
FP: It is so interesting. It all comes down to his world view. This story for somebody else could be a very depressing story or it could be a winy story or angry story. “Oh, look what I didn’t get to do”. For him though, he thought it was great. He didn’t get to make the movie but he made my movie and he also had a great career and a lot of other movies were influenced by his work. Even I get choked up watching the end of the film, where he says that you have to try and that it is all about ambition. It is great. He is such an amazing and powerful guy. I am very lucky to have had a chance to work with him.

MG: Tell us about the score in the film?
FP: Our composers name is Kurt Stenzel. It is his first film and he was just great. He has never done a score before. He is this electronic musician and does all this great synthesized music. But he and I go way back actually and we grew up in Queens, New York together. I first knew of him when he was part of the New York hardcore scene. His old band was the very first New York hardcore tape that I ever bought back in 1987 or something. It is totally crazy. So he has gone from the New York hardcore world to a career scoring films. He can be like the new Mark Mothersbaugh. We are also hoping to release the score down the line for the fans.

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Classics

MG: How did the relationships between other films like “Raiders of the Lost Ark’s “Masters of the Universe”, “Prometheus” and others get recognized?
FP: It is weird. Some of them are obvious. When we were making the documentary “Prometheus” came out, so that was an easy one. I remember seeing the commercial and thinking “What the hell?”, since that was the Giger mountain. It was crazy. It was totally lifted from the “Dune” artwork. Then some of them we really had to search for and some we couldn’t even include. After he attempted to make “Dune”, he spoke about how he started his career in comics, he did “The Incal” and “The Metabarons” series and a bunch others. If you look at the “The Metabarons” comic, you can see images in there that ended up in the movie “The Avengers”. There was no way to put that into the movie because it would be an entirely different chapter showing how his work influenced this and that etc. But his stuff is everywhere. Even Kanye West’s last tour/album was inspired by “Holy Mountain”. So we can say that he touches everything from “The Avengers” to Kanye West. How can someone do that? So we just be searching around and looking at the storyboards and trying to see anything that resembled them. They think that there were about twenty of those books made and only two exist today. So where are the other eighteen? You see so many similarities in other films that somebody else has had to have seen this book over the years.

MG: Do you think the world will ever see Jodorowsky’s take on Dune?
FP: I think this is his take on the film. I do not think he has that burning desire to do it anymore. I think he feels that “You want to see the movie? Then it is here, watch the documentary”. I think in his mind he feels like it is done. I think he has moved on also since it has been so many years. Also can anyone make a “Dune” movie anymore? Lynch had a hard time. Syfy did a one over a decade ago. So many people have taken from the “Dune” source material, the book, which in turn has influenced so many other films. Maybe if a true representation of “Dune” came out people would think, “Oh, I have seen all this before”. They have seen in various films that maybe it wouldn’t be as exciting for them. Jodo is happy and he has no regrets. He is also very happy to have been able to tell his version of the story now in this film.

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Classics

MG:  What can we expect from the Blu-ray release in terms of special features?
FP: There is a ton of great material that we are passing off to our distributor, Sony Pictures Classics. I am not sure what is going to end up on the Blu-ray but I would think that they would want to include it all on there. We shot hours of interviews footage. So, we have hours and hours of interviews with Jodorowsky and all these people that couldn’t fit into the story we told. But it is still valuable stuff that I want to share with the world. If I was a betting man, I would say that it will be included on the Blu-ray release. It is too great not to have it.

MG: What do you have planned next after this film?
FP: I have a couple of ideas and projects in my head stirring around. But man, it is a challenge because this movie came out really good and I am really proud of it. It premiered at Cannes and went to Telluride and all these great film festivals. Sony Pictures Classics is releasing it. How much better can this be? What do you do to top this or complement this? That is the challenge for me. It takes so long to make these movies anyway. As far as I learned with this, if you are not totally in love with the movie you are making you are never going to finish it. Hopefully, I can find a subject that is as interesting as Alejandro Jodorowsky and his version of “Dune”. If you hear of anything left me know [laughs].

Tommy Reid talks about his new documentary film “Superthief” and “I Know that Voice”

In 1972, Cleveland-based burglar and bank robber Phil Christopher helped pull off the biggest bank robbery in US history when the stole an estimated $30 million from the United California Bank.  Director Tommy Reid has turned the heist into the new documentary film, “Superthief,” which is now out on DVD.

Born in New Jersey, Tommy Reid directed his first film, “7-10 Split,” while attending Ohio State University.  His next film was the brilliant documentary about another Cleveland mobster, “Danny Greene:  The Rise and Fall of the Irishman.”  So interesting was the subject that Reid helped produce a feature film about Greene entitled “Kill the Irishman.”  His next project is the behind the scenes look at voice over actors called “I Know that Voice.”

Earlier this week Reid took time out to talk about his career.  Before the interview we talked some football – he seemed to think my Kansas City Chiefs would do well this year with new Coach Andy Reid (no relation) at the helm.  On the record we talked gangsters, making movies and the possibility of directing his sister, Tara, again (“Sharknado II” anyone?)

Mike Smith:  What drew you to highlight the United California Bank Robbery in “Superthief?”
Tommy Reid:  I went to THE Ohio State University Undergrad and a lot of my buddies in my fraternity were from the Cleveland area.  I’d go up there with them a bunch, usually over holiday weekends and summers.  I really like the Cleveland area.  And I had some buddies that were really into the mafia and they would tell me stories.  I ended up making a movie called “Kill the Irishman,” which was about the Cleveland mafia.  It’s a great movie with Val Kilmer, Christopher Walken, Paul Sorvino, Vincent D’Onofrio…the list goes on and on.  If you haven’t see it please go see it.  (NOTE:  I’d already seen it and like Mr. Reid says, it’s a great movie).  It turns out that the author of the book I optioned to make “Kill the Irishman” was also writing a book about Phil Christopher and the biggest bank robbery in US history.  The story intrigued me and I knew that was a movie right there.   The book was ok but I thought there was a lot of subject matter that needed to be expanded so I wanted to do a documentary on the subject of Phil Christopher alone…to tap into his mind how this all went down.  How did he get his training…how did he get into a career of crime?  And that’s what intrigued me.  It became a passion project.  Phil Christopher agreed to an exclusive interview and he did so with a compliment, as he really loved what I’d done with “Kill the Irishman.”  He felt why not give it a try.

MS:  That kind of answers a little bit of my second question as to why both of your documentaries deal with Cleveland crime figures.  As a filmmaker was that something you enjoyed investigating…true crime?
TR:  Yes I do.  It’s like a “whodunit” type of situation.  You always try to put the pieces together.  For me as a filmmaker I always like to see where the path went wrong…where was the fork in the road where they chose between right and wrong?  Which path did they go down?  And I think I identified that in “Superthief.”  That was the fun part for me.  To go back and look at a crime that had almost become an urban legend and to really tackle the fundamentals on how it all went down.

MS:  You’ve directed both fictional features and documentaries.  Do you have a preference?
TR:  Actually I just finished another documentary.  Documentaries are really fun.  Very fun to make.  Very fun to produce.  But there’s also something that’s really fun with working with actors.  Making a fictional feature film is very fun but very exhausting.  Working with actors is sometimes a little overwhelming.  Not only do they want to look good but they want “their” take.  The get upset at the director if they don’t use “their” take.  Which is why you never let them in the edit bay (laughs).  For the most part they’re both fun but they’re different beasts.   Of course you have a better chance of making a profit for your investors on a fictional feature film then a documentary, unless you’re doing a documentary on Justin Bieber or One Direction or something like that.  (NOTE:  Mr. Reid knows of what he speaks – this past weekend the new documentary concert film featuring One Direction brought in $17 million).  For the most part documentaries don’t really have a big impact on the market place.  They get popular from word of mouth.  From people asking “have you seen this movie” and then telling their friends to go rent it.

MS:  You turned Danny Greene’s story into a fictional feature.  Do you have any plans to do the same with Phil Christophers?
TR:  Absolutely.  We already have a script written and it’s phenomenal.  It was adapted by the writers who have a new show coming up this season on NBC.  It’s called “The Blacklist” with James Spader.  It’s a very well written and thrilling script that we have that we’re trying to raise money for to make into a feature film.

MS:  And you will be directing the film?
TR:  I will.

MS:  You’ve directed your sister, Tara, in the past.  Any plans to work together again?  And how is the relationship on set?
TR:  Tara is very professional on set so it’s always a director/actor relationship.  She took direction well and was very easy to work with, so we didn’t have that brother/sister thing on set.  Thank God.  Right now there’s no plans to work with her in the future but it’s always a possibility.  (NOTE:  Keep those fingers crossed, “Sharknado” fans!)

MS:  Final question – what are you working on next?
TR:  I just finished a movie called “I Know That Voice,” which is all about the biggest voice actors in the industry.  It covers the history of the voice actor, from Mel Blanc, who was “the man of 1,000 voices,” to the biggest stars today.  We also talk to “Simpsons” and “Futurama” creator Matt Groenig,  “Phineas and Ferb” creators Dan and “Swampy” (NOTE:  Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh) as well as vocal stars like Hank Azaria, John Di Maggio, Billy West.  Jim Cummings, who’s Winnie the Pooh.  June Foray, who’s 95.  She was the voice of Rocky the Squirrel and is still working today.  We cover everyone.  It’s an amazing movie.  It’s coming out VOD (Video on Demand) in December.  We’re planning on a one-week theatrical debut in Columbus, Ohio in November and hopefully we’ll have the DVD on the market in October.

Baillie Walsh talks about directing documentary “Springsteen and I”

Maybe director Baillie Walsh could get a job as a diplomat. After all, his resume’ includes the Oasis documentary “Lord Don’t Slow Me Down,” where he managed to keep the often feuding Gallagher brothers fairly civil. He was also good enough to employ Daniel Craig in between Bond gigs, featuring him in “Flashbacks of a Fool,” his first fictional feature that he both wrote and directed. He has directed videos for such bands as Massive Attack and INXS. This week see’s the premiere of his new documentary, “Springsteen and I,” a look at the love affair between the Boss and his fans. How diplomatic is he? I was so engrossed in the last minute plans of my wife’s surprise 50th Birthday Party that when he called me for this interview (one I had set up a week before) I was totally unprepared. Undaunted, he agreed to call me a few days later, when he was on “his” time. Diplomatic and incredibly nice.

Mike Smith: What inspired you to do this project?
Baillie Walsh: I wish I could say it was my idea but actually I was asked by RSA Films (Ridley Scott’s Production Company) to do it. I was very excited about the concept of it and I thought it was a perfect idea for Bruce Springsteen and his fans. Actually I couldn’t resist it.

MS: When you approached Bruce was he keen to the idea as well?
BW: Absolutely. I mean we obviously needed Bruce’s approval to get the film made because I knew we would need archive footage and Bruce’s music to make the film possible. So I went to Bruce and Jon Landau (Springsteen’s longtime producer) and had a meeting with them. And it was very quick. They immediately realized that the idea was perfect for Bruce and they gave us permission to do it. And they gave us access to the archives and access to his music. They gave us the complete freedom to make the film we wanted to make. There was no editorial control. So it was an incredible experience for me. I feel very lucky to have been able to do it.

MS: A lot of your earlier work was in music videos, including INXS and the Oasis documentary “Lord Don’t Slow Me Down.” Do you think that experience made you the right person for this project in Springsteen’s mind?
BW: Yes. I’m sure the facts that I had both a music background and a documentary background were part of the reason I was asked to do it.

MS: You gave Daniel Craig his best role between Bond gigs when he starred in your first fictional feature, “Flashbacks of a Fool.” Do you plan to continue on the documentary side or do you want to concentrate more on fictional features?
BW: I love being able to really mix it up. Obviously I have to say that making a feature film that you’ve written is one of the great, extraordinary experiences in life. To be given the opportunity…and the finances…to be able to do that. I would love to be able to do that again. But I also really, really enjoy making documentaries. I really do. And this one was done in such a modern and interesting way…I really loved the approach and the idea. What excited me about it most was that I had never seen this film before…I didn’t know what the film could be. And to go into a project with fear, because you have no idea how it’s going to be, that is the most exciting way to work.

MS: What are you planning now?
BW: You know what I’m going to do now? I’m going to go on holiday! I’m going fishing, Michael.
MS: Don’t go to far.

Jorge Hinojosa talks about directing documentary “Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp”

Jorge Hinojosa is the producer/director of a new documentary about the influential writer Iceberg Slim. The film is titled “Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp” and is a gritty in-depth look at the man who was a pimp turned author that would sell over 6 million copies of his works prior to his death in 1992. Media Mikes had the chance to talk with Jorge about the film and what it was like adding the title of director to his already impressive resume.

Adam Lawton: What was it that initially sparked your interest in the project?
Jorge Hinojosa: My regular gig is managing Ice-T and I have been doing that for the last 28 years. When I first met Ice-T I asked where he got his name and he told me that it was because of this guy Iceberg Slim. He gave me all the books to read and over our time together we were always referencing them. A couple years ago when it looked like there was going to be a Screen Actors Guild strike I came up with the idea for the documentary. Ice was all for it and then when the strike ended he told me that I should do the project. That’s really how it all came about.

AL: How did you go about choosing who you were going to interview for the film?
JH: Everyone we talked to was connected to Iceberg Slim in some form or another. Henry Rollins along with Rick Rubin released Slims spoken word album. Quincy Jones at one time was in talks to produce a movie about Iceberg Slim where Snoop Dogg would play Iceberg Slim. All these people had connections and I knew they were all fans. Everyone involved was really amazing and they all told some great stories.

AL: Was it hard in anyway getting the family members involved?
JH: Icebergs kids all loved him but at the same time its history and a legacy that is painful to them. On one hand Slim was a writer that did some incredible things but on the other no one feels as though they were properly compensated for the sales of those books. As a result of that the family lived in poverty. It’s bitter sweet. They wanted Slim to be portrayed in a way that was both honest and true however they knew that it was going to be painful. There were a lot of mixed emotions throughout the process.

AL: When you were putting everything together what was it like going back through all of the footage that was shot?
JH: Everyone we interviewed for the film said some really fascinating things. We had to be really careful in that we didn’t let something go off on a tangent. We wanted to wet people’s appetite but we didn’t want other stories to take away from the main idea of the film. It’s a fine line we had to dance along as there are many stories within this story that could make for their own movies. We had to make sure that our originally story was served first. We really had to be ruthless in what we cut.

AL: For you personally what did you find to be one of the more challenging parts of working on the film?
JH: We had such a tremendous amount of footage that I had to go through. So to figure out what I wanted to include was very difficult. I realized that the documentary should focus on a few major points that tell the emotional side of who Slim was. I definitely focused on that and the literary side of Slims life. I had to make sure that I included what I thought would be the best snap shots of Slims life. The other thing about this film is that I financed it myself. I had started off with an offer from Warner Bros. to finance it completely however as a first time director I felt that they may try and boss me around some. I wanted to be able to make the film the way I thought it should be so I took on the burden of financing the project. I am glad I did that because it made the journey that much more thrilling and at the same time terrifying. There were definitely highs and lows while we knocked this thing in to shape.

Tim Kirk talks about producing “The Shining” documentary “Room 237”

Tim Kirk is the producer of the new documentary “Room 237: Being an Inquiry into ‘The Shining’ in 9 Parts”. The film takes a look behind the film “The Shining” and exposes some of the films deeper meanings. If you are a fan of “The Shining”, then you need to watch this film ASAP! Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Tim about the film and his thoughts on the theories.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you end up getting involved producing “Room 237”?
Tim Kirk: For several months a few years ago, my baby daughter could only sleep while being gently rocked in my arms. During this time, I completed the Internet. In the deep recesses I found a mind-blowing essay about The Shining. I sent it to my friend Rodney Ascher, knowing he would dig it and hoping that he was awake. He called 10 minutes later and Room 237 was born.

MG: Tell us how the documentary ended up being split into nine parts?
TK: When we sat down to structure the film, we had many sequences of varying lengths. We tried a number of structures and this one seemed to work the most. Numbering the parts was aimed at giving the viewer a sense of the shape going into it, and a way to keep track of where they are in the film as they are watching. It’s an unusual structure so we tried to provide clues along the way.

MG: The documentary is thought-provoking and intriguing; what was your biggest challenge with this project?
TK: I think the biggest challenge of making this film was that there is no map for making a film like this. That’s also why making it was so fun and liberating.

MG: How long did the film take to complete from conception to release?
TK: We spent a year researching. Another year interviewing and editing. Then another year in post.

MG: Some of the theories are a little bit of a stretch in my mind; which ones do you feel have the strongest case in the film?
TK: We tried to make the strongest case we could for each theory. Rodney once described the apparatus of the film as being “this persuasion machine.” I have completely believed each theory at one point or another. Right now, three some years in, I don’t know what to think any more.

MG: Are you shocked by the response that this film has generated since its release?
TK: I am blown away by the response to this film. At many times during the making of the film, Rodney wondered if he wasn’t Jack, typing away on his nonsense novel. In that scenario, I am probably Lloyd, pouring the drinks and urging him on.

MG: Is there any extra footage planned for the Blu-ray release? What other kind of extras can we expect?
TK: We have some deleted scenes, many audio, for the DVD. Some great theories and ideas that didn’t make it into the film. Let me just say “Big Dipper.” Also, some alt trailers and other goodies.

MG: Being a fan myself; what is your personal favorite scene in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”?
TK: I think my favorite scenes are when Jack is at the bar, talking to Lloyd. We get a glimpse into the sort of novel Jack would be writing if he could. He clearly fancies himself a working man’s writer, using crass and derogative language. His spells of angry eloquence here and on the stairwell are in real contrast to the phoney we meet in the interview scene.

MG:What do you have planned next after this film?
TK: Working with Rodney is great and we have a couple of documentaries in the works. There is a narrative project I’m working on. I’m also hoping to become a fierce soccer dad.

Coach Bill Courtney talks about football and Academy Award Winning Documentary "Undefeated"

You may not know the name Bill Courtney but if you’re lucky you know, or knew, someone like him. Courtney was the volunteer head coach for the Manassas (Tennessee) High School football team for seven years. Even though he has his own business and a large family of his own, Courtney takes time out every day to make sure that the boys at Manassas that want to play football can. “Football doesn’t build character,” the coach believes, “it reveals it.” During what would be his final season at Manassas, the coach and his team were followed around by a camera crew highlighting O.C. Brown, a player who, reminiscent of the story of Michael Oher which was told in “The Blind Side,” was being helped along by a local family to ensure he studied hard so that he could go to college. But the camera captured much more. The resulting film, “Undefeated,” went on to win last year’s Academy Award as the year’s Best Documentary. While preparing for the film’s release this week on DVD, Coach Courtney took time out to talk with Media Mikes about football, his players and why people in Tennessee are so giving.

Mike Smith: I have to ask – The Touhy family took in Michael Oher. The Finley family took in Patrick Willis. (NOTE: Willis, from Bruceton, Tennessee, was taken in by his high school basketball coach and his family. What’s incredible about these stories is that earlier this year Oher and Willis squared off against each other in the Super Bowl). Yourself and your coaches at Manassas. Is there something in the water in Tennessee that gives people such great hearts?
Bill Courtney: (laughs) I’ve done about 100,000 interviews and that’s the first time that question has been asked. I don’t know! In the South we still teach civility and humility…love for your common man. Maybe that translates to this. I haven’t really thought about it. There are people all over this country that do wonderful things for kids in all kinds of communities. The truth is I think we just happened to have our stories told. I think we’re just representatives of a whole community of people from all over the country that do lots of things to help the neediest. We were just the lucky ones to have our stories told.

MS: What was the initial idea pitched to you from the filmmakers when they approached you about filming you and the team?
BC: The local Memphis newspaper, “The Commercial Appeal,” and their sportswriter, Jason Smith, wrote a story about one of our players, O.C. Brown, living with Mike Ray, one of our offensive line coaches, and his family and me driving him back and forth from school in order for him to get tutoring so that he could get qualified to go to college. The producer of the film read the story on line while he was surfing through some recruiting websites. He’s a big University of Tennessee fan and Tennessee was recruiting O.C.. When he saw the story he thought it might make an interesting, small documentary. He called me and we met so he could hear more about that story. When they got here they found out the greater story of Manassas…of the coaches and all the kids…and decided that there was a bigger story to tell. He told me he was going back to L.A. to get funding to make a movie. Of course, when he left we all thought that was the last time we’d see him but four weeks later, after closing up their apartments and selling off their belongings the filmmakers moved to Memphis on a shoe-string budget and started making a movie that nobody thought anybody would ever see. And lo and behold…here we are!

MS: How did the team react with the cameras constantly following them around? Was it an intrusion or did they get used to it?
BC: It would be pretty disingenuous to say that at first the kids and the coaches weren’t aware. But also, you just had two guys with two small cameras. There were no boom mikes…no lighting…no sound. It was two guys with what looked like camcorders. That’s what the entire movie was shot on. So it really wasn’t this big production, which made it less intrusive. I don’t know if I’d believe this if I hadn’t gone through the experience but, honestly, after three or four days…after a week…you kind of get used to it. They worked so hard to know the players and the coaches and the teachers that, when they weren’t around, people were more cognoscente of it. “Hey coach, where’s the film guys?” “I don’t know.” The days they didn’t show were stranger then the days they did because they were there almost every day for a year. You honestly eventually just get used to it.

MS: I see that O.C. transferred this year to Austin Peay. How is he doing, both as a student and as an athlete? (NOTE: At the end of “Undefeated” O.C. is admitted to Southern Mississippi University).
BC: I just saw him at Christmas break and talked to him last week. I still talk to all the guys regularly. O. C. had some struggles with his grades and Southern Miss had a coaching change. The coaches that were there were really fond of O.C. and worked with him really hard to keep him where he needed to be academically. But I think after the coaching change O.C. was uncomfortable. He transferred to Austin Peay and started nine games this season. He hurt his knee and missed the last two games and now he’ll be starting next year. I’ll have three former players starting on the offensive side of the ball at Austin Peay next year. I suspect I’ll be making some travels up to Clarksville to watch those guys play.

MS: When we announced we were going to interview you the question we were asked most to ask you was if you still keep in touch with Money and Chavis? And if so, how are they doing? (NOTE: Chavis Daniels and Montrail “Money” Brown are two of the young men whose stories feature prominently in the film)
BC: Absolutely! You have to remember I was a coach at Manassas for seven years. I’ve known most of these boys since they were in sixth or seventh grade. I’m still very, very fond of them and am probably still their biggest supporters. Chavis is doing well. He goes to Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee. He’s playing football – outside linebacker – and is still In school. He’s doing very well. Money…when O.C. left Southern Miss he left Southern Miss as well and is enrolled in community college here in Memphis. Most importantly he just got back from North Carolina where he was trained as a Young Life educator and is now setting up Young Life chapters in the inner-city schools all over Memphis to do devotionals and mentorships with inner city kids. I actually spoke to Money yesterday and he’s got as many as fifteen kids in different chapters in the Memphis city schools and he goes in the mornings and talks with them and helps mentor them. Money has found a calling to give back in the way he was helped and he’s still in school. The guys are doing really well. I couldn’t be more proud of them.

MS: When the film ends, you’ve left Manassas to coach your son’s team. Your first game was against Manassas. What did it feel like to be on the opposite sideline? BC: It was terrible. There was enormous trepidation leading up to that game personally, obviously. I mean those are like my sons over there, you know? I love them. And to have to go coach against them was really a very difficult thing for me. It was difficult for them as well. I was so glad when it was over with. It was tough. Very tough!

MS: Can I ask who won?
BC: We did.

MS: Thank you so much for your time, coach. I have to tell you, when I watched the film, it made me think back to my high school days. I owe a lot to my coaches for keeping me on the straight and narrow.
BC: I appreciate that. I honestly think that’s why so many people across all kinds of cultures and racial divides identify with this movie because they either remember a coach that did something for them that impacted their life in a positive way or are coaches doing that very thing. I think this film brings out the humanity in that. I appreciate you saying that…thanks for the kind words.

Julia Davis talks about documentary "Top Priority: The Terror Within"

Born in Russia, Julia Davis seemed to have a fairy tale life. She met and fell in love with filmmaker B.J. Davis while he was making a film in her hometown, emigrated to the United States and, armed with her educational degrees, found a job in one of this country’s most important agencies – the Department of Homeland Security. However, the fairy tale took a horrific twist when Ms. Davis reported to her supervisors what appeared to be a security breach of top priority. Rather then investigate her report the agency, and others within the U.S. Government, set out to discredit her, as well as subjecting her family and friends to unimaginable harassment. It took almost a decade but the truth has finally come to light. With the DVD release of the whistle-blowing documentary film of which she is the subject, “Top Priority: The Terror Within,” Ms. Davis graciously took some time out to talk with Media Mikes about her life since the film was released and her plans for the future.

Mike Smith: What made you choose to go into a career with the government?
Julia Davis: Since my childhood, I always had an interest in police work and investigative matters. After 9/11, I felt the need to serve our great nation, helping to safeguard it from any future terror threats. Since I speak multiple languages, I thought that my abilities could be put to good use by the federal agencies responsible for protecting our national security.

MS: Do you believe that all of the retribution towards you was brought on because you simply embarrassed the government?
JD: I’ve often wondered whether the reason for such unprecedented magnitude of retaliation was embarrassment or corruption. Customs Service is historically the most corrupt federal agency. Even the former Port Director of the San Ysidro Port of Entry where I worked (which is the largest and busiest land border crossing in the U.S. and in the world), Daphiney Caganap was caught red-handed for accepting bribes to allow drugs and illegal aliens to cross the border. It is certainly not outside the realm of possibility that someone intentionally allowed 23 subjects from terrorist countries to enter the U.S. without following proper procedures, in exchange for a bribe or because of another sinister motive.

MS: How were you able to obtain the various taped testimonies and video surveillance footage that appears in the film?
JD: In retribution for my whistle-blowing disclosure, my husband and I were twice maliciously prosecuted and falsely imprisoned. We eventually prevailed against the Department of Homeland Security in those legal proceedings and were declared factually innocent. At that point we filed a lawsuit against the DHS to hold them accountable for their outrageous, unconstitutional actions. Discovery procedures provided an opportunity for us to depose the Defendants, videotaping their testimony. The Blackhawk helicopter raid of our house was recorded by our neighbor, Mathew Judd. Shortly after giving us the tape and his statement, this healthy 25-year old man was found dead. Over the years we were subjected to extensive surveillance by fixed wing airplanes, helicopters, vehicles and agents following us on foot. We’ve been meticulously documenting what could be described as living in the movie “Enemy of the State”. The documentary contains 517 video, audio and document image inserts. Since the magnitude of the case is so unbelievable, we were determined to illustrate every fact with irrefutable evidence. Director Asif Akbar and Editor Paul Robinson labored tirelessly to make an enormous amount of evidence available to the viewing audiences. I can’t say enough to praise their dedication to getting the story told in a way that leaves nothing to speculation. What is shown in a film is not an allegation or contention, but facts, accompanied by audiovisual proof.

MS: Since the film was made have you been able to find anything that might further link this case with the deaths or Brittany Murphy or her husband?
JD: I’ve requested and obtained an extensive number of records from the Department of Homeland Security/ICE, which contained the evidence that Brittany Murphy and Simon Monjack were about to be prosecuted for alleged “immigration marriage fraud” shortly before Brittany died. As a matter of fact, Britt’s death is the only reason the prosecution didn’t go forward. I find it highly suspicious that the same agency (DHS/ICE) was utilizing exactly the same methods (helicopter and vehicular surveillance, entertainment industry work interference, investigations, etc.) to pursue my husband and I, just as they did to Britt and Simon after she became a witness in my case. Brittany and Simon exhibited numerous symptoms of acute poisoning prior to their deaths (including vomiting and abdominal pain), but neither their hair nor tissues were ever tested for toxins, poisons or heavy metals. Brittany’s father, Angelo “AJ” Bertolotti is continuing his fight to get his daughter’s hair and specimens finally tested by an independent laboratory. He is now represented by George Braunstein, Esq. – an esteemed attorney who was involved in securing a proper autopsy with respect to the death of Sylvester Stallone’s eldest son Sage. We are determined to find out Brittany’s and Simony’s true cause of death, which will start with proper medical testing of their specimens.

MS: You often appeared on television as an anti-terrorist expert before this happened. Are you still able to do this or has this case maybe scared off the networks?
JD: I still write for the Homeland Security Examiner and appear on network television as an anti-terrorism/immigration expert, but my case is undeniably too controversial for the mainstream media. Amongst other things, the documentary explores the connections between our government agencies and the MSM. It is disappointing, but no longer surprising.

MS: Were you able to take any action against the police departments that falsely stopped you?
JD: We’ve made a report to the San Diego Police Department that addressed the unlawful actions by the officers of their motorcycle traffic division (including Officer Steve Webb, who conspired with the Department of Homeland Security in conducting an illegal traffic stop). Much like the DHS, they took absolutely no action to hold anyone accountable.

MS: You have a Masters Degree in Aviation and Spacecraft Engineering. Any desires to pursue that field again?
JD: I studied engineering to follow in my parents’ footsteps, particularly because my father was an ingenious, award-winning inventor in that field. While I still love technology, I believe that creative expression in its various forms is my true calling. There are many important stories that need to be told and I intend to do my part in making that happen, as a Director, Producer, Screenwriter and an Investigative Reporter.

MS: What are your plans for the future?
JD: As they say, “People plan and God laughs”. My main goal and objective is to do my best to make this world a better place, one day at a time. I plan to continue making movies, writing books and news articles/investigative reports. I also plan to continue with my ongoing efforts to ensure that meaningful whistleblower laws finally get enacted, which would include jury trials and protection for national security whistleblowers.

MS: Finally, what would you say to someone who finds themselves in the position you were in and knows of what extremes others will go to prevent the truth from coming out?
JD: I would tell them to hold on tight, as they’re in for a wild ride. Most importantly, I would implore them to never surrender, never lose hope and never stop telling it like it is (even when it seems like no one is listening). Truth, justice and the American way is about doing the right thing, no matter the price.

Blu-ray Review “Shark Divers: Documentary Collection”

MPAA Rating: PG
Distributed by: Mill Creek Entertainment
Release Date: June 26, 2012
Running Time: 193 minutes

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

I am a sucker plain-and-simple any kind of shark documentary. “Shark Divers” delivers some decent entertainment for any shark lovers. If you are looking for some hardcore documentary, this may not be for you. But it is a fun mix and facts with entertainment factor. Mill Creek’s delivers overall a nice collection of documentaries including the following: “The Shark Divers”, “Shark Business”, “Whale Sharks: Gentle Giants” and “Giants of San Benedicto”.These are film taking advantage of the high-def underwater photography and are developed by Danny Mauro.  He has worked on over 100 programs about the marine environment, including “The Blue Realm”. So you know that these docs have a lot of love going into them.

“The Shark Divers” – Sharks are BIG business in adrenaline eco-tourism. And some thrill seekers deliberately pursue close encounters with deadly sharks – without the protection of a cage. The bigger and more dangerous the shark, the better. But have we taken this risky sport too far? “Shark Business” – Shark Business unravels some of the mysteries surrounding sharks with controversial behaviorist Dr. Erich Ritter. You’ll witness divers testing the limits of shark-human interaction outside of cages with dangerous sharks such as lemon, bull and even Great White sharks!

“Whale Sharks: Gentle Giants” – Whale Sharks: Gentle Giants introduces us to this amazing creature through scientists who are racing against time to save the species. Utilizing space-age technology from NASA and the Hubble Telescope, researchers are able to identify, catalogue and track individual sharks.

“Giants of San Benedicto” – You’ll travel to the remote Socorro Islands off Mexico’s Pacific coast and see breath-taking encounters with enormous manta rays. You’re sure to love these majestic giants as you see how they invite human contact, and encourage certain divers to ride them. The film crew also travels to the Bahamas to visit “Bubbles”, a fifteen foot Manta in the world’s largest aquarium, and witness her release back into the ocean.

The Blu-ray release itself looks nice but not stunning within its high definition transfer. Despite the fact that it was shot underwater, it still looks presentable for the format, thought not going to blow anyone away.  The audio track  included is DTS-HD MA 2.0 is like the video transfer…acceptable.  The narration sounds decent and works well with the music in the docs. If you are looking for any additional special features, besides the four documentaries, you will be disappointed.  I wouldn’t though have expected much more besides the films themselves.

DVD Review “Woody Allen: A Documentary”

Director: Robert Weide
Starring: Woody Allen, Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Penelope Cruz, Larry David, Mia Farrow, Diane Keaton, John Cusack
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Distributed by: New Video
Run Time: 195 minutes

Film: 5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 4 out of 5 stars

This film is really an absolute complete look into the career of Woody Allen. It starts during his teenage years writing jokes for comics and local papers to working for Sid Caesar to doing standup comedian to his writer-director career. In that last career he has averaged one film each year for more than 40 years. If you are fan of Woody Allen this is a great tribute to his amazing career and if you don’t know Allen this is a great place to start.

In this very extensive look his films we get everything covered from his early films “Take the Money and Run” and “Bananas” to the favorites like “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” to his latest critical and commercial successful films like “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “Midnight in Paris”. “Midnight” was easily my favorite film of 2011 and re-sparked my interest in his films. I thought I knew quite a lot of his films but I felt myself learning so much about Woody Allen and his work from watching this.

Besides Woody Allen himself, I would like to list just some of his people who contribute new interviews for this documentary: Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Penelope Cruz, John Cusack, Larry David, Mariel Hemingway, Scarlett Johansson, Julie Kavner, Diane Keaton, Martin Landau, Louise Lasser, Sean Penn, Tony Roberts, Chris Rock, Mira Sorvino, Naomi Watts, Dianne Wiest, and Owen Wilson and many others. They all provide great back story into their experience of working with Woody.

The special features on this film are really great and plentiful. If the 3.5 hour film is not long enough for you, there are more extended deleted scenes and interviews. Woody Allen goes around Brooklyn reminiscing more about his neighbors, dating and the local movie theater; Mariel Hemingway talks about Allen’s meeting her family and the story behind Allen’s 1966 debut in The New Yorker are all among the scenes included. Lastly, there is a fast and fun Q&A between Allen and director Robert Weide.

EXCLUSIVE News: Tom Sullivan Get His Own “Evil Dead” Documentary, “Invaluable”

We recently interviewed Tom Sullivan known for his work on the “Evil Dead” series.  The full interview will be posted in mid-August during our “Evil Dead” interviews series, including Danny Hicks, Betsy Baker, Theresa Tilly and Timothy Quill.

Following our interview with Mr. Sullivan, he said  he had a little news that we could break for him as a MovieMikes exclusive:

Ryan Meade, a friend of Mr. Sullivan and a filmmaker, is finishing up a documentary film about Mr. Sullivan called “Invaluable.” The title comes from the word Fangoria Magazine has used to describe Mr. Sullivan’s involvement in the “Evil Dead” films. The film covers Mr. Sullivan’s art and film career and includes interviews with some of films biggest stars, including, of course, the cast and crew of the “Evil Dead” films. The film will also feature a lot of behind the scenes looks at the “Evil Dead” films.

Here is an official quote from Tom:
“It’s official. There’s a documentary about Tom Sullivan. The Evil Dead FX Guy, Tom Sullivan. Not the other ones. Although they would be worthy subjects of well made documtarys too. Except for maybe that one Tom Sullivan but we won’t talk about him. But it’s shaping up to be a lot of fun and I learned a lot about Tom Sullivan. The Evil Dead one. And it’s by Ryan Meade.”