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    I Am Evel Knievel (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on July 2nd, 2015

    Anybody can jump a motorcycle. The trouble begins when you try to land it.”

    There’s a segment in I Am Evel Knievel that features some of Knievel’s contemporaries — along with a few of the younger extreme sports athletes he inspired — breaking down just how difficult it is to jump a motorcycle across vast distances. (Especially when you’re using relatively primitive equipment the way Knievel was.) Long story short, the crucial components are guts and a mental makeup that doesn’t allow you to overthink or dwell on the insanity of what you’re about to do. This entertaining documentary succeeds in illustrating how Knievel had both of those qualities in spades.
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    Pandas: The Journey Home (Blu-ray-3D)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on June 26th, 2015

    “In these mountains roams one of the rarest species on our planet. A shy, elusive, and gentle creature: the giant panda.”

    If you are old enough you will remember President Richard Nixon’s famous trip the China. He was the first President to make the voyage, and it was heralded as a foreign policy breakthrough for the nation. Long after, the hoopla had died down and the only time it seemed Nixon was in the news was for Watergate. But even amid the scandal, one bright legacy of that trip remained for years to come. That was, of course, the Chinese gift to the United States to celebrate the event. We received two pandas named Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing that would capture the hearts of a nation even as Nixon was losing them
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    The Wrecking Crew (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on June 22nd, 2015

    What do Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Sonny & Cher, The Monkees, and Nat King Cole have in common? (Besides, of course, their undisputed status as musical icons and the adoration of millions of fans.) Well at various points in their illustrious careers, they were each backed by The Wrecking Crew, a tight-knit group of session musicians responsible for cranking out some of the most familiar hits of all time. This documentary is a lively love letter to that incredibly charismatic and cohesive group, whose contributions remained largely anonymous for decades.
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    The Swirl

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on June 12th, 2015

    I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I sat down to watch The Swirl. I didn’t need urban dictionary or the comically on-the-nose tagline on the DVD cover to tell me the film would be exploring the world of interracial dating, with a strong emphasis on the relationships between African Americans and Caucasians. But I assumed I’d be watching some no-budget melodrama that would (at best) be good for some unintentional laughs. Instead, The Swirl set out to be funny on purpose.
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    Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on June 1st, 2015

    One thing one can be sure of is that there wasn’t before him an Orson, and there’ll never be a second.”

    This year (May 6, to be exact) marks what would’ve been Orson Welles’ 100th birthday. To celebrate, filmmaker Chuck Workman has made a charming documentary with a title as grandiose as its subject. Magician: The Astonishing Life & Work of Orson Welles is a thoroughly entertaining — if somewhat superficial — survey of one of the 20th century’s greatest showmen.
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    Where Was God? Stories of Hope After the Storm

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on May 28th, 2015

    “There are some rough spots in His plan.”

    I’m not the only person who’s reflexively rolled his eyes after an athlete or entertainer has thanked God for helping them win the Super Bowl or a Grammy. I personally don’t mean it as blasphemy; I just don’t believe God has a vested interest in the outcome of a football game. Following that logic, it seems silly to think He also roots *against* certain people. And if anybody has a right to feel like God is “against” them, it’s people like the real-life tornado survivors who appear in this admirable documentary, which illustrates how one can rise above anger and staggering loss.
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    The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on January 26th, 2015

    Hello, please allow me to observe you working.”

    A sign bearing those words hangs inside Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation factory responsible for films like Grave of the Fireflies and My Neighbor Totoro. It’s one of many polite directives that adorn the airy workspace, but it also describes the mission of The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. The movie gives fans an unprecedented look inside the world (and walls) of Studio Ghibli, and watching the creative process is alternately fascinating, frustrating, and exciting. However, the documentary also surprisingly turns out to be an elegy for a dying art form.
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    Dinosaur 13 (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Brent Lorentson on January 9th, 2015

    Even though in this documentary we may not get to experience T-Rexes chasing after unfortunate paleontologists while running amuck in a theme park, Dinosaur 13 still manages to be an engaging adventure from start to finish.  This is a film that reaches out to all the young kids inside all of us who while growing up dreamed about what life was like when dinosaurs once ruled the world.  It taps into that adventurous bug that was once inside all of us as kids about exploring and discovering worlds that have not yet been discovered and creatures that now can only survive in our imaginations
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    Edith Wharton: The Sense of Harmony

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on December 23rd, 2014

    “Life is always a tightrope or a featherbed. Give me the tightrope.”

    Edith Wharton was born into the “featherbeds” of New York’s high society, and some of her most famous books — “The Age of Innocence”, “The House of Mirth” — are set among the well-to-do elite. But this dry, informative documentary — which focuses on her work as a designer, world traveler, and philanthropist — makes the case that Wharton chose the “tightrope.”
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    The Dog (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on November 18th, 2014

    “If anybody gets up, they’re dead. Anybody moves, they’re dead. Anybody makes a sound before I leave this movie, …”

    You get the idea. These are the words of one John Wojtowicz, better known as The Dog. On August 22, 1972 he attempted to rob a Chase Manhattan bank in order to finance his male lover’s sex change operation so that he could become a woman. The heist was about as amateur as the come and went horribly wrong from the start. In a matter of minutes the bank was surrounded by a swarm of police units and a growing mob of bystanders.
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    Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on October 29th, 2014

    “It was the gang that ran amok. You have people who were being extorted, who talked of having a shotgun barrel stuck in their mouths or machine guns pointed at their groin. Body bags were shown by Bulger as he shakes them down. It was absolute terror.”

    It amazes me that I really had very little idea who James J. Bulger was before I watched this film by director Joe Berlinger. How could I have missed this guy? On the run for over 16 years, Bulger was once #2 on the FBI’s most wanted list. Who was #1? That was Osama Bin Laden. So who was this man that came in second only to the world’s most infamous terrorist?
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    Ancient Aliens: Season 6 – Vol 1 (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on October 8th, 2014

    “Millions of people around the world believe we have been visited in the past by extraterrestrial beings. What if it were true?

    Ever since Eric von Daniken released his speculative book and its subsequent 1970 film Chariots of the Gods, there has been an entire field of study created around something commonly called Ancient Astronaut Theory. The idea is that extraterrestrials have visited many of our ancient civilizations. The theory continues that these visitors had a hand in shaping our development, whether it be through technology or even manipulation of our very DNA.
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    “31 Nights of Terror” The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on October 2nd, 2014

    Despite its found-footage conceit and similar-sounding title, The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill is somewhat of a different demon animal than a certain recent horror franchise. Given that found-footage fatigue seems to be setting in among critics and audiences, any sort of deviation from the norm should be welcome. The problem is this film ultimately doesn’t deviate far enough and hedges its bets with a climax that seems transplanted in from a handful of other movies. More importantly, viewers will probably be too bored to even care by the time movie gets around to being scary.
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    The World Wars (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on September 11th, 2014

    “One must regard the 30 years of strife, turmoil and suffering in Europe as part of one story. One story of a 30 years war.” – Winston Churchill

    He was exactly correct, and one of only a few people of the time who had the vision to understand that concept. Before the end of World War II the first world war was known as The Great War. The idea of two separate world wars came later.
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    Richard Lewis: Bundle of Nerves

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on September 11th, 2014

    Some of the most iconic stand-up comics of all time have famously wrestled with personal demons while simultaneously mining them for material on stage. Few have done so more successfully — and for a longer period of time — than Richard Lewis. His neurotic, self-flagellating act earned Lewis his “Prince of Pain” nickname, but his longevity is just as impressive. The fact is a lot of great comics don’t last as long as Lewis because they lose that battle with their demons too soon. So it’s great to see that, at age 67, Lewis finally gets his due with a DVD set that covers some of his most seminal work.
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    Aerial America: Southeast Collection (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on August 25th, 2014

    One of the miracles of modern technology is its ability to shrink the world down so you can practically (well, proverbially) hold it in the palm of your hand. The cheerily square Smithsonian Channel series Aerial America goes the other way. In fact, the best thing about the show is how it uses technology to fill every inch of your screen with some of the most famous — along with some of the more underappreciated — U.S. landmarks, employing a larger-than-life/bird’s-eye point of view most of us wouldn’t otherwise be able to enjoy. Now, Smithsonian Channel and Inception Media Group have released another batch of episodes on Blu-ray.
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    Project Wild Thing

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on August 20th, 2014

    “The generational shift to an indoor existence has been strongly linked to a sharp decline in children’s well-being.”

    That’s just a fancier, more eloquent version of the familiar lament that (these darn) “kids today just don’t play outside anymore!” It’s also the jumping-off point for Project Wild Thing, an inventive and engaging documentary that explores the apparent disconnect between today’s youth and the natural world they seem intent on ignoring.
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    Disneynature: Bears (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on August 11th, 2014

    “Hi, little guys.”

    There was a time, decades ago when Walt Disney Studios was doing quality documentaries on a pretty regular schedule. Many of them appeared on the television show The Wonderful World Of Disney, and more than a few were released as feature films. And while that tradition has continued somewhat, it’s been a while since I was truly impressed by a Disney documentary. That all changes with the release of Bears.
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    Aerial America: Southwest Collection (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on July 24th, 2014

    One of the miracles of modern technology is its ability to shrink the world down so you can practically (well, proverbially) hold it in the palm of your hand. The cheerily square Smithsonian Channel series Aerial America goes the other way. In fact, the best thing about the show is how it uses technology to fill every inch of your screen with some of the most famous — along with some of the more underappreciated — U.S. landmarks, employing a larger-than-life/bird’s-eye point of view most of us wouldn’t otherwise be able to enjoy.
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    Watermark (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on July 8th, 2014

    Anyone who ever sat through an elementary school science class knows that about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in water. We’ve all heard the spiel, but I don’t imagine most of us spend much time contemplating how truly staggering that figure really is. Watermark seeks to convey the many different ways humans and the planet’s water supply affect one another. The documentary is maddeningly scattered, but it also manages to capture and convey a small part of the world’s awe-inspiring bigness.
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    Civil War 360

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on May 26th, 2014

    I’m as excited as you are to (finally!) have a three-day weekend. But between scarfing down hot dogs or hopping from one pool party to the next, it can’t hurt to take a few moments to acknowledge why we observe Memorial Day in the first place. You probably know the annual holiday pays tribute to the men and women who have died while serving in the U.S Armed Forces. What you may not know is that Memorial Day originated shortly after the U.S. Civil War. This three-part documentary miniseries strives to examine “America’s Bloodiest War” from every angle.
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    Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on May 22nd, 2014

    Jackie Mabley, the trailblazing subject of this HBO Films documentary, earned plenty of superlatives during a comedy career that spanned more than 50 years. She was touted as “the funniest woman in the world.” The DVD cover art crowns her as “the Original Queen of Comedy”, and one of the film’s interview subjects calls her “the original cougar” thanks to her on-stage predilection toward younger men. Of course, Mabley would probably prefer it if you just called her “Moms.”
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    Generation Iron

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on May 15th, 2014

    Bodybuilders present a series of fascinating contradictions. They objectively embody the ideal physical form, but there are also people who can’t even stand looking at them. They’re in tip-top shape, but instead of running, jumping or hitting each other, their competitions involve…posing. Pumping Iron, the 1977 documentary that turned Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno into stars, was the first film to shine a light on the world of bodybuilding. Generation Iron stylishly and thoughtfully explores how the sport — and its participants — have grown immensely in the ensuing decades despite remaining a somewhat peculiar part of popular culture.
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    One Direction: Reaching for the Stars Part 2 — The Next Chapter

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on May 15th, 2014

    As soon as you saw the title of this review or caught a glimpse of the DVD cover art to the right of this paragraph, chances are you either rolled your eyes or squealed with delight. In less than five years, One Direction has become a worldwide boy band behemoth. The group’s devoted fans call themselves “Directioners” and serve as a helpful reminder that “fan” is short for “fanatic.” This DVD is purportedly aimed at those same fans, but I imagine there’s not much here a true Directioner hasn’t already seen on Twitter or YouTube.
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    Cocaine Cowboys: Reloaded (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on April 10th, 2014

    Today, Miami is considered one of the most glamorous cities in the world. But long before it became the place where some of the biggest stars in sports and entertainment took their talents, Miami was dubbed the drug, murder, and cash capital of the United States. (Resulting in a drastically different “Big 3” than what locals are accustomed to these days.) Cocaine Cowboys already chronicled this shockingly violent stretch of the city’s history and featured recollections from some of the people who helped Miami achieve its dubious status. Now an extended version of Billy Corben’s 2006 documentary arrives on Blu-ray.
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